Holidays

16th Street Mall: Ten Stores Where You Can Find Holiday Gifts

Is 16th Street Mall just an empty shell in terms of holiday retail in 2021?
Is 16th Street Mall just an empty shell in terms of holiday retail in 2021? Teague Bohlen
The 16th Street Mall is a nearly forty-year-old experiment in downtown urban renewal that’s become one of Denver’s tourist hot spots. For years, it has struggled to re-establish the juggernaut of its retail history, especially in the old digs of much-loved stores like May D&F, Joslins, Neusteter’s and Denver Dry Goods; the pandemic set back many of those efforts.

Can anything worthwhile be purchased on the mall today, especially anything that works as a holiday present. We decided to find out, walking the length of the mall from Broadway down to Union Station, looking for gift ideas. Our rules: no gift cards and nothing from big chain stores like Target, Walgreens, CVS, Ross or TJ Maxx. Here’s what we found, in no particular order:
click to enlarge The exterior and lobby of the University Building, and Musselman Jewelers on the 4th Floor - TEAGUE BOHLEN
The exterior and lobby of the University Building, and Musselman Jewelers on the 4th Floor
Teague Bohlen
Jewelry From Musselman Jewelers
910 16th Street, Suite 400
The jewelry business was swinging in the University Building between Curtis and Champa for many years: Kortz was there for 113 years, until 2005, and William Crow made it to 2019 before closing its doors. Musselman is a family business that prides itself on strong customer service, and it’s one of the few remaining jewelers in what might still be considered Denver’s own diamond district. There were rumblings a little over a year back that the University Building’s old-world grandeur might get redeveloped into a boutique hotel — so gather your jewels while you can.

A Pizza (or Four) From Giordano's
1600 California Street
These delicious discs of Midwest decadence can be purchased frozen, so you can wrap up the pies with some cold packs and put them under the tree (for a while). They come in two sizes, with four choices of toppings pepperoni, sausage, cheese or spinach. If you know someone from Chicago, one of these slabs of cheesy nostalgia will do their heart — and their stomach — lots of good.
click to enlarge Wild West storefront. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Wild West storefront.
Teague Bohlen

A Cowboy Hat From Wild West of America
715 16th Street
Wild West (the T may be missing from the sign, but the gift shop hasn't been bought and relabeled by a guy named Wes) is a typical gift shop — "souvenir" is right there on the weatherbeaten sign. You can load up on everything from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts to the typical "Western" stuff that mostly appeals to old folks who come to Colorado because they really like John Wayne. But a cowboy hat doesn't have to seem mega-touristy.

click to enlarge Wines Off Wynkoop - TYSON M.
Wines Off Wynkoop
A Bottle From Wines Off Wynkoop
1610 16th Street
LoDo's oldest liquor store still in operation is Wines Off Wynkoop, which sells vino the old-fashioned way: from an alley. Patrons might have to keep their eyes peeled to find the shop tucked in an alley off 16th Street not far from Union Station. But its selection of wines, craft beers, and even cigars and small gift items is worth seeking out. Check it out on a Friday night, when there are often a couple of wines available for tasting and at discount prices.

Sneakers From Sole St. Shoes
716 16th Street
If you're buying for a shoe enthusiast, then you'll be in good company at Sole St. Shoes. The windows might be boarded up and the place might look like it's closed, but it's not. Sole St. Shoes is surviving on a street where even NikeTown couldn't last.

click to enlarge It looks closed, but it's not. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
It looks closed, but it's not.
Teague Bohlen
Tickets to a Show at Clocktower Cabaret
1601 Arapahoe Street
Beneath the historic Daniels & Fisher Tower — the only remaining remnant of one of the great department stores in Denver history — nestles the Clocktower Cabaret, which describes itself as "like falling down a rabbit hole into another world." And that it is, with a variety of burlesque, comedy, drag, circus and dance acts that grace the vintage venue. 

Hiking Boots From Danner
1435 16th Street
Danner's newest store is right on the 16th Street Mall, offering up "the largest assortment of Danner boots outside of the Pacific Northwest," according to its website. Danner has slung its roughing-it style since 1932, and the Denver location also sells wallets, leather goods and smaller gift items. A long-established company opening up a new store on the aging 16th Street Mall — could this be a harbinger of retail resurgence? Here's hoping.
click to enlarge Danner (L) and Mt. Everest Imports (R) - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Danner (L) and Mt. Everest Imports (R)
Teague Bohlen
A Hemp Backpack From Mt. Everest Imports
705 16th Street
The Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas might be pretty distant in terms of geography, but  they come together philosophically at Mt. Everest Imports. Aside from beautiful statuaries of Ganesh and Shiva and Kali, this store brings in items often handmade in Nepal, from jewelry to clothing to home decor, incense and more. If someone on your list is missing out on their Pier 1 merch, this is where you can buy the real deal.

click to enlarge Sheepskin rugs at Overland. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Sheepskin rugs at Overland.
Teague Bohlen
A Sheepskin Rug From Overland
1512 Larimer Street, Suite 2R
Overland Sheepskin might have an address in Writer's Square, but it faces 16th Street, proudly anchoring the corner of 16th and Larimer. Originally founded in Taos, it established itself in Denver early on as a provider of coats, hats, mittens and gloves, slippers and sheepskin rugs. One of the best presents for a newborn (or one on the way) is Overland's baby rug. It's soft and hypoallergenic, it wicks away moisture, and — most important — it's washable. But really, these rugs are good for anyone who likes to be comfy.

A Western Shirt From Rockmount Ranch Wear
1626 Wazee Street
Last but not least is Denver legend Rockmount, whose Western shirts and other regionally inspired apparel have absolutely transcended kitsch and gone straight into cool. Rockmount was started by local retail legend Jack Weil in 1935, and it's stubbornly refused to change much since that time. It's still putting out gorgeous shirts and other clothing that's meant to turn heads in a good way. A lot of celebrities love this stuff: Elvis, members of the Avett Brothers, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Jack White, to name a few. It's a Denver classic and a Colorado original.
click to enlarge Rockmount Ranch Wear was a favorite of David Bowie and Elvis. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Rockmount Ranch Wear was a favorite of David Bowie and Elvis.
Teague Bohlen
Where's your favorite place to shop on the 16th Street Mall? Let us know at [email protected]
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen