The southern Colorado city of Trinidad, population under 9,000, could become the state's next cultural hub — if a who's who of Denver entrepreneurs, cultural mavens and preservationists have their way.
The latest in a string of Denver businesses to announce a presence in the town: Mutiny Information Cafe, a bookshop, record store, all-ages DIY hub and community gathering spot at 2 South Broadway.
And soon, also in Trinidad.
Split by I-25 and connected by major highways to New Mexico, Kansas and Texas, the old coal-mining town has had a turbulent economy that has boomed and busted since it was founded in 1870. It's seen bloody miners' strikes, served as the gender-reassignment capital of the world, ridden the oil industry roller coaster and, most recently, become a cannabis lover's paradise, with around two dozen dispensaries — one for roughly every 400 people in town.
Conservation-minded developer and visionary Dana Crawford has been active in Trinidad since 2016, working on restoring the old opera house, the Fox West Theatre — which has hosted a series of live-stream concerts — and other sites.
Sexy Pizza founder, former cannabis mogul and 2018 Denver mayoral hopeful Kayvan Khalatbari, who has been a major supporter of comedy, DIY publishing and other creative undertakings in Denver, has spent the past few months buying properties to help turn the town into a cultural hotspot filled with affordable housing and worker-owned businesses. He plans to open a Sexy Pizza with a yet-to-be-disclosed Denver brewery, a music venue and more.
With the new, thirty-square-mile Fisher's Peak State Park six miles away sure to attract mountain bikers and northern New Mexico's vibrant arts scene down the highway, Khalatbari is betting the town will soon be a tourist destination as well as a place where disenchanted Denver residents can settle.
When they do, they'll find a familiar companion there: a second Mutiny Information Cafe.
Four months ago, at Khalatbari's urging, Mutiny owners Jim Norris and Matt Megyesi took a trip down to Trinidad. They planned to visit, entertain his kind offer to help them open a store in his building, and politely turn him down.
Then something happened. "We fell in love with the town, fell in love with the aesthetic," says Norris. The public art and history of the place resonated with his leftie sensibilities and punk-rock aesthetic. "The statues in the park are for workers' rights and labor organizers."
With cannabis wafting through the air, historic architecture that dates back to the late 1800s, and a quirky, committed cultural scene that includes gems like the Art Cartopia Museum, Trinidad is a relaxed place for exhausted Denver creatives to make a home. They hope the kind of cultural experimentation that is being priced out of Denver can thrive there.
"It's not as much stress," says Norris. "We're all looking forward to having a chance to go down there and work in a town where we don't have to fight Nazis every day. There are a lot of like-minded communities down there."
Khalatbari started buying properties in Trinidad five months ago, when he purchased a church that he's converting into a house, community center and recording studio. He has several other parcels under contract, too.
Khalatbari was lured to the town by former Sexpot Comedy curator and comedian Wally Wallace, who moved to Trinidad a couple of years back and started the Southwest Chief Bicycle and Comedy Festival in 2019. Wallace has since been hired as the town's economic development coordinator. In January, Denver comedian extraordinaire Nathan Lund will move there, as will hi-dive co-owner Curtis Wallach, who will be starting a yet-to-be-announced music project.
While Mutiny has no plans to leave Denver and Norris intends to stay in the city, Khalatbari describes the businesses headed to Trinidad as part of a "South Broadway exodus."
The town has been welcoming to the newcomers, he says. But with a new coal-mining operation promising to bring thousands of jobs to the region and Denverites interested in experiencing small-town life, residents worry that newcomers could drive up housing prices.
Khalatbari, who is also working on developing affordable-housing projects and real-estate cooperatives in Trinidad, says he is looking forward to finding creative ways to address those needs. After all, keeping the town affordable is critical to his vision of creating a place where artists can make a home and prosper.
"You feel an energy you can't even explain," he says. "There's so much possibility here for so many people who feel disenfranchised in big cities. There's this really cohesive push in the community to finally get it past this boom-and-bust cycle it's been in for so long."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.