A few years ago, our hearty band of pranksters devised the Bad Colorado Souvenir Mall Crawl Challenge, a one-hour contest to find the very worst souvenir available on the 16th Street Mall.
But it was no challenge at all. Once a bastion of great shopping – with real department stores and the country’s second-largest Woolworth’s. But over the years, the mall’s shopping opportunities have devolved to the point that, if not for the shops in the Denver Pavilions and Ross Dress for Less, someone shopping for clothes after the airlines lost his luggage could be dressing for that important business meeting in a T-shirt and pair of Minnetonka sandals from one of the truly bad souvenir stores that still abound along this stretch running through the heart of Denver.
We met at Maggiano’s, agreed on the ground rules, and then, with a cocktail or two tucked under our belts (along with twenty bucks, the limit for our competing souvenirs), we were off.
An hour later, we reconvened at the Wazee Supper Club, ten blocks of horrifying shopping away. In the intervening minutes and blocks, contestants had managed to find souvenirs ranging from an “I Love New York” purse off a street vendor (so Denver!) to a teddy bear in a pink “I Heart CU Buffs” sweatshirt, which seemed particularly appropriate given the sexual hijinx the University of Colorado football team was accused of at the time. But the clear winner was a black-velvet painting, complete with carved wooden frame, of two tigers basking by a waterfall by an exploding volcano. It was a stunning scene that just screamed Colorado, and at the end of our celebration, we signed the back “from the collection of John Hickenlooper” and hung it on the wall of the Wazee.
It is no longer on display, but allegedly has a place of honor in the offices of the Wynkoop Restaurant Group, which still owns the Wazee but no longer counts Hickenlooper as a partner.
With the Democratic National Convention coming to Denver next August, our crew decided it was high time to survey the shopping opportunities that will await the world next August. So on the first Monday in November, we reconvened for the second Bad Colorado Souvenir Mall Crawl Challenge. Because the weather was cool and our thirst was great, we cut our shopping time in half and decided to meet at Earl’s, the steakhouse kitty-corner from the Pavilions that didn’t even exist during our last challenge. Other things have changed on the mall, too. Evan Makovsky has taken over block 162, the most blighted block downtown, the site of the long-empty Fontius Building. Although the wig and jewelry store that once resided there were no loss to us, that entire block of storefronts is now empty – and crying out for some creative occupancy plan in time for the DNC.
At the starting clink of a wineglass, I headed towards Broadway, taking a moment to salute the now-closed Duffy’s Shamrock. Although the souvenir stores in this area hadn’t given up, they’d gone dark alarmingly early for my purposes. I passed one closed shop, two, three – and then, eureka! The Adam’s Mark Hotel gift store was wide-open. Sadly, no miniature replicas of those hideous dancing ballerinas out front were available, but so many quality items were on display that I could easily pass up the usual sweatshirts and candles in favor of a 1997 calendar, a bag of Elk Doodles (chocolate-covered raisins designed to look like poop), an on-sale Colorado commemorative magnet/picture frame, and my secret weapon.
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I grabbed my booty and headed to the amazingly jammed Earl’s, where the competitors had already secured a table overlooking the mall – open to the elements, but with heat pouring down from overhead. The views both outside – from the second floor, we looked out at the Pavilions more upscale shops – and inside were a city boosters’ dream, and the place was full of conventioneers and OTL. “Out of town lust,”one of our group advised.
And in this heady atmosphere, we unveiled our entries. My magnet/picture frame. A shotglass with hiking boots at the bottom, to be filled with chocolate rock candy. (No need for the Elk Doodles.) A “Good Bush/Bad Bush” T-shirt, so appropriate with the DNC coming to town, just the thing for Katie Couric to wear on-air. A pair of Denver drumsticks from the Hard Rock Café. And the winner, as chosen by our waitress: a blow-up innertube in Bronco colors, with the Bronco logo and an inflatable horsehead on the front. Very Barney crossed with The Godfather, and possibly the only thing that will keep the team from drowning, should it revert to its early season play.
It would be just the thing for the Democratic presidential candidate to display in honor of the convention’s host city – if not for the fact that I returned to the store the next day and bought out the entire stock for Christmas gifts. – Patricia Calhoun