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Urban camping is permitted when it comes to bargain hunting

The first sign of fall is not that overnight chill in the air, nor is it the hint of gold in high-altitude aspen. No, it's when some guy drags a ratty old sofa to the sidewalk outside of the Sports Castle — now home to Sports Authority — at Tenth and Broadway, sets up his cooler and computer, and waits for the start of SNIAGRAB. Waits for sometimes more than a week; last year, the first bargain hunter was in place ten days before the annual Labor Day sale started, the earliest sighting Off Limits had ever made from our perch across the street at the Westword office. But this early bird wasn't alone long. Other people soon joined him, and by the time the Sports Authority doors opened on the last Friday in August 2011, the line — of people, and tents, and tarps — stretched up Tenth Avenue and around the corner up Lincoln Street.

This year, though, there's a new wrinkle: In May, the city officially banned urban camping. And although that measure was really aimed at the homeless sleeping on the mall (and swept up the Occupy Denver sidewalk squatters in the process), it also technically bars pitching a tent on the sidewalk outside of a sporting-goods sale. But SNIAGRAB is also a Denver institution, so the Denver Department of Public Works, the City Attorney's Office and Sports Authority managers have been working on securing the proper permitting to allow shoppers to camp outside the store before the sale starts. "We've really thought through all the details," promises Ann Williams, spokeswoman for public works. "So no fear, people will be able to get in line early to be the first to take advantage of the great deals at SNIAGRAB."

Deputy City Attorney Scott Martinez knows just how good those deals can be. An almost-native — he moved here when he was six, went to school here and had his kids here — he says he grew up skiing, and that some of his best memories are of skiing. And of the one time he camped out for SNIAGRAB, coming prepared with Army rations he'd picked up on South Broadway. "It was before Labor Day 1994," he remembers. "It was the quintessential Colorado experience, going out with your friends to get a new pair of skis. I was going there for the experience more than anything."

But he got more than that. "I ended up with a sore back," he recalls, "but also a great deal on skis." He grabbed some year-old 175 cm K2s, as well as new boots, for the price he would have paid just for skis. "I still have the skis," he confesses. "They're great skis, but they need a quick tune-up...like a lot of things."

Like the city's permitting process, which should be tuned up just in time to let sports fans pitch their tents and occupy SNIAGRAB.


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