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Small Business Spotlight: Curbside Skatepark Empowers Kids Through Skateboarding

Kiernan McGinnis riding a skateboard inside Curbside.
Kiernan McGinnis riding a skateboard inside Curbside. Broc Waring
Did you know that there is only one indoor skatepark in all of metro Denver?  Curbside Skatepark is tucked away in an unassuming warehouse in Sheridan, serving young people who are finding their footing in life while rolling on wheels. Walking into Curbside, you're immediately aware that this is a place that gets a lot of action and isn't worried about flash. It's clear that here is where skateboarders are built — from the benches made from concrete cinderblocks holding wood planks, to the low-key murals and a little bar with stools, you don't get the feeling you need to fit in to belong.

With so much being reported on the struggles that young people are experiencing, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, we wanted to talk with someone who was building a spot that answered kids' need for connection and community. Here is what Curbside founder Michael Penhale had to say about the place he built that is reaching those kids. 

Westword
: Would you please give us a quick description of the business?

Michael Penhale: Curbside is an 11,000-square-foot skateboard park in Sheridan, a space I’ve created so kids can skate year-round and be in a safe space. We also provide programming for youth, hosting AA meetings, foster care programs, Boys and Girls Club — a place people can gather for the three C's: courage, confidence and character.

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Curbside founder Michael Penhale.
Brock Fetch
When/how did you get into skating world?

I came from a pretty broken family, and I started to find friends through skateboarding. [When I was] around seven years old, my parents would drop me off at the skatepark and be gone all day. The older skaters started taking me under their wing, and I got hooked up with skate shops and had a sponsor at eleven, and over the years, I learned how to operate a retail space and was even giving lessons there at, like, thirteen.

What is the most common question people ask when they reach out?

Ha! They ask, "How did you do it? How are you still open?" There haven't been any indoor skateboard parks that have lasted as long we have, and we are totally focused on the community and these kids. A huge reason we are a success is thanks to a guy named Joel McGinnis. He ran the Southglenn location for 7Twenty Boardshop, then started his own shop, called McGinnis and Sons. He was the guy who would get us all together, help us figure out sponsors, and everybody loved this guy. His son Kiernan is a great skater, and when Joel passed away four years ago, I made it a commitment to do what I could to support his son and his wife.

I purchased the products from his shop, and his son and his son's friends started working for me. When we went to Joel's shop, they had thrown everything in the garbage, and we rescued some things including a mini ramp which we used at Curbside. We gave the opportunity for each of these kids to learn how to work and be a part of something. Our longevity and success is really just because we genuinely love these kids. We look out for them. We’re totally focused on the community, and continuing to carry the mantle that was instilled in us.

The first couple years I was trading tattoos for work — you can tell who has worked there the longest by who has the most tattoos — and now I haven’t worked an official shift in two years. I still go out and film with them and come in, but it is totally run by the kids.

Tell us about the products and services you all provide.

We have our skate shop, which has everything to keep you rolling, from new wheels and anything to do with the actual skateboard. We have some accessories, but no shoes or apparel. Anything a skateboard would need, we provide. We offer camps, after-school programs, private rentals, birthday parties, events and even weddings.

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Michael Penhale and kids with their boards.
Jake Reny
Tell us about other ways you are working with young people at Curbside.

We started a food truck, Churro Face, that serves churros and coffee. Young people work with the truck and develop a résumé, retail experience and managerial stuff at like sixteen years old. Those kids are the ones who run the business. And then, of course, some of them start to learn about working in the skate shop and in the skatepark.

What makes Curbside different?

The fact that we are Colorado local, homegrown. The business is from Denver and carrying on Joel’s old shop, so it has legacy to it. We are also carrying on what the people who put together the Sk8 Church [did as] part of the growth. We also don’t look at people like numbers. We're not out here trying to get rich; our biggest payoff is having one of our kids graduating high school. Joel’s son got an offer from a sponsor in Philly, and we were able to help move him out there. I flew out and met up with my friend, picked up Kiernan, and got to give him the "Hollywood drop-off" and set him up. He had jobs that fell through, and we were able to [get] him a job with a production company, and he runs our marketing from Philly. He just got a job with Luminati, editing commercials for them. That is something that happens where I'm like, "We’re done! We did all our work!" We love seeing them landing their first kick-flips, growing in their character and giving them opportunities, regardless of their background. We get to see people prosper. I want it to be a place where a kid can show up with a pocket full of quarters and be a part of it all.

Do you serve a particular group of people?

It's really broad, but the majority are ten- to fifteen-year-olds, but then we still have people in their thirties and forties who still come in all the time. In the winter, everybody’s there, the cool kids and the nerds. Early teens is our main focus, and once they get older and into some other things that sometimes come with that, they go to the Denver parks to skate.

What are some of the challenges of having a small business that most folks don’t know about?

That you gotta pay for everything, and we don’t have a ton of capital, no investors, and our biggest fiscal challenge is that we’re seasonal. We try to make up for that with programming, events and private rentals during closed hours. We've had some grants from the city for programming, but once summer hits, it gets scary every year. We made some investments like the coffee shop and food truck, and that forces us to partner up.

If we were having this conversation in a month, I'd say we have no problems! I think being a small business is a team of people that are IN IT. Jake, our manager — we can argue and be totally in love again. Our views and vision are totally in line; even if we are in a pinch, we’re all capable of taking those hits. Curbside is the overflow of our personal lives. I tattoo full-time so, I don’t pull from the business. Staff helps each other out, and any time we’re in the red, one of us will just roll off the schedule, and we know we'll get a check in the next month. Or I’ll just use my personal money, and then once winter comes, we’re all good. Our love for each other is huge. I'm more scared of an upset mom whose kid got hurt than worrying about money.
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Michael Penhale building a mini-ramp.
Jake Reny
How do you want people to feel in your business?

For the kids, I want them to feel like they just showed up to their house, to know who’s behind the counter, take a seat at the barstool and feel like it’s their seat, that they belong. And for parents who want to give us some insight, that's helpful, too, but our focus is really on the kids' comfort. We had a kid who is autistic and doesn’t do good in big crowds and really likes a particular staff member, so they just rented out the park and had that staff work with them. We're more than happy to hear from parents things that will help us know what's going on with them, like, "My kid got suspended and is having a hard time, and just wanted to let you know."

What is a small-business achievement you’re really proud of?

Being around for five years in April. When I started, I thought if I made it five years, it would be insane. If it can outlast me, it would be the craziest thing ever — if this business stayed around forever.

Why should people support small businesses?

Corporations suck. Small business is where culture comes from. Otherwise, if it’s not small businesses that are serving the people, then it's just after getting your money. It's like a family that has a restaurant: You feel something in the culture they created. I'd much rather live in a culture that is rich in hospitality versus just being in, like, a hospital of businesses.

What are some of your favorite small businesses to support in Denver?

For sure, Think Tank Tattoo. They make a lot of everything I do possible. I want to give a huge shout-out to Luminati productions in Park Hill. The people on their production side are the most loving, generous people, and each person I have personally felt loved by. They have gone above and beyond in every one of my business endeavors. Their fabricator helped build the food truck, and their graphic design team — they’re the shit.

Curbside Skatepark
3535 South Irving Street, Sheridan

curbsideskatepark.org
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