If you grew up in Lakewood, Aurora, Wheat Ridge or Denver proper like me, chances are good that there's a slice of Colfax Avenue that holds a special, if not dangerous and possibly regrettable, meaning to you.
Last week I passed by Smiley's Laundromat on East Colfax and noticed that it was all closed up -- windows hung floor-to-ceiling with plastic, no sign of life or the burned-into-memory checkered floors that I'd spent the laundry days of my early twenties skating around while hustling my own dirty clothes in a low-cut shirt. The fantastic handpainted signage still adorns the glass, promising same-day service and free wifi. But Smiley's isn't closed for a remodel. It's gone.
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Whether I was sitting in a Nissan Sentra near Saturdays Gentleman's Club, waiting for a drug deal along the unsavory eastern stretch of Denver's 26-mile-long main street, or puking into the bushes in front of Casa Bonita on the west side, Colfax has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has been a continuous path into the past, present and future culture of the Denver I know and love, even though gentrification is ignited along one stretch or other from time to time, eating my memories up in a haze of whitewash and dreadful, unfeeling suburban aesthetic.
The "World's Largest Discount Laundromat" was the first place I did my washing outside of my mother's house. It was the first place on Colfax where I stayed out late -- not including evenings catching shows at the Ogden, Bluebird and Fillmore Auditorium (which, in my teenage years, was known as Mammoth Events Center). Smiley's was probably the first and only place I have ever heard the pick-up line, "Damn, you're built like a college girl." It was the first place my first band, The Hot House, had "press" photos taken.
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But how could I be upset about the laundromat's closure when I hadn't been a Smiley's customer in over a decade? Times had changed since 1999, when I needed those industrial machines to do my obscenely large loads of laundry. I moved on and things that used to be important -- like the location of my apartment -- shifted.
When I moved out of my parent's house at nineteen, my place had to be in Capitol Hill. It was the part of Denver you moved to if you were cool in any capacity. My apartment needed to be within close proximity to bars that I still couldn't get into, like Cricket on the Hill, and shops that helped created my personal aesthetic as a teenager, like Wax Trax and imi Jimi. My apartment also had to be close to my boyfriend's apartment, a spot on 10th and Marion that I had spent hours driving by in high school, back when he wasn't yet my boyfriend.
The fact that my shady landlord was overcharging two teenage girls for a shitty basement apartment without working locks was balanced by that apartment's proximity to Smiley's. Colfax's weirdness has always been part of its charm, and the people doing laundry at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night have an elevated version of weirdness that only Smiley's could provide.
Babies high on candy and up way past their bedtimes, girls in inappropriate club attire washing their sheets (me), and gentleman offering gifts of stray earrings and left-over shirts found in washing machines populated the laundromat. It was as if the multiple rooms of washers and dryers had been perfectly curated by someone with a full understanding of Colfax's bizarre inhabitants.
I should remain unfazed in the face of progression on Colfax Avenue -- it's been happening since the street was born out of U.S. Highway 40. But my heart breaks a little when I see that a beehive of humanity and insanity like Smiley's is closed forever. A part of me wishes someone would have hand-delivered a notice to my doorstep about it -- I would have liked one last chance at an awkward human interaction set to the clunky whir of an industrial washing machine. And what's going to happen to the Smiley's building? Read about that tomorrow.
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