Ink Lounge

Stuart Alden, who, along with his wife, Nicky, runs the local screen-printing studio Ink Lounge, got it into his head that men are crafty, too. After working one too many girly craft fairs, he found himself asking, what about the guys? There are plenty of men hand-crafting products with man appeal, he reasoned, so why isn't either male constituency — the makers or the buyers — represented at a typical holiday market? Last December's Holiday Mancraft was the upshot of that lightbulb moment, featuring merchandise for men from an all-male pride of artists at a reception flowing with beer and — concession to the ladies? — cupcakes. Are you listening, Stuart Alden? Please bring back Mancraft! Do it for the guys!

SoBo, which incorrectly begins at First Avenue and Broadway and works its way south to Alameda, has been a work in progress. But a few crowning touches — a slow influx of new and trendy restaurants, a stabilized lineup of boutiques and the recent instigation of the Tigalo block of shared quarters for Buffalo Exchange and Fancy Tiger — have made all the difference between its designation as a street with a few shops one sees while rushing by and that of a real shopping destination. People are stopping more than they did before, and they're going to do that more and more. The charm is already there, and the variety is plentiful. If the Broadway stretch can address its cons in the future — narrow sidewalks, fierce traffic and parking nightmares — with a project like the one just finishing up on Tennyson Street, there's no telling how high this district can fly.

Readers' Choice: South Pearl Street

Cured

For years, Boulderites have eyed Denver enviously, wishing they had an equivalent to the big city's cheese shops. Then, last summer, Coral and Will Frischkorn opened Cured a few blocks off the Pearl Street Mall. Coral and Will are young, newly married and in love not just with each other, but with all things cheese. Convinced that the United States now produces some of the best cheeses in the world, they travel, sample, experiment and select the very best of what they taste. In addition to cheese, their store carries a selection of cured meats, honeys, chocolates, vinegars, salts, olive oils and any other foodstuff that piques the Frischkorns' palates, as well as baguettes that take you right back to Paris, whether you've been there or not. That would be more than enough to satisfy most Boulderites, but the well-stocked wine store in the back pushes Cured over the top.

Sugar Plum Bazaar

The Sugar Plum, housed in the nooks and crannies of the Parkside Mansion, a charming old house-for-hire, is as sweet as its namesake and filled with beautiful things at every turn. Half the fun is wending one's way up the stairs or out back and into the carriage house in search of jewels and shoe ornaments, and clothes handmade from vintage fabrics, and china bluebird salt shakers in every room. Organized by craft-market veterans Alissa Bush of Twirl Girl, Jennifer Carabetta of Dizzie Izzie and Mandy Yocom of Fern and Sprout, Sugar Plum not only boasts a well-curated mixture of vendors, but it's loaded with atmosphere and the lovely buzz of deals being made and beautiful things being considered, coveted and bought. And, you know, there's just something old-fashioned and sweet about that. Here's hoping the Sugar Plums dance on!

Tucked in the back room of Yellow Feather Coffee is a tiny record store run by Molly Zackary. Some people might remember Zackary for her long-running distro bearing the same moniker, or from running into her at punk and hardcore shows in years past at Double Entendre, Monkey Mania and elsewhere. Her friendly and gracious demeanor and sheer knowledge of the niche she's cultivating with her inventory is impressive. Growler is also one of the few stores in Denver to carry metal and hardcore vinyl. The record player in the corner is available to sample most, if not all, of what's in stock, and the small-press books and zines are always pleasantly surprising.

When Amelia Deleon couldn't find jewelry to fit her petite frame, she decided to make it herself. The craftswoman restrung some old pieces and made them new again, and Stranded Jewelry was born. After several successful private trunk shows, Deleon's friends urged her to take the one-of-a-kind vintage bead and stone creations public. Partnering with local businesses and hosting events at the (now) Gildar Gallery, Stranded has found its way onto the wrists of teenagers, moms, grandmothers and everyone between. Costume, minimal or formal, Deleon creates affordable bracelets, necklaces and earrings for all styles of women.

We've always admired the way the Pavilions management has been willing to stick its neck out by offering space to such indie enterprises as Cali & Mo, which launched its first store there five or so years ago. That practice, paired with a strong commitment to a core group of appealing national retailers, from the Gap to Forever 21, has kept the large holes left by the departing Virgin and Nike stores from bringing the whole place down. And in the last year or two, the Pavilions seems to be solidifying, rocking it on the strength of its Forever 21 superstore and the entry of H&M (which just added a new in-store Marni shoe shop) into the game. The Pavilions knows its place. It's not overwhelmingly large, and it has something for everyone, including a movie theater, a book store and a bowling alley. The mall also plays host to the annual Downtown Denver Arts Festival over Memorial Day weekend, as well as a number of offbeat events, such as last fall's Project Runway-style Cut 'n Sew: Yves Saint Laurent Challenge for local designers. Lastly, we simply love that the Denver Pavilions is downtown, adding its urban flavor to the 16th Street Mall experience.

Readers' Choice: Pearl Street Mall, Boulder

I Heart Denver Store

We heart the I Heart Denver Store, for several reasons. Reason one: It supports the community in the most basic of "buy local" ways, by featuring only Colorado-made merchandise. In turn, this is not your average "local" merchandise; items range from hand-screen-printed T-shirts or stationery to original works of art and locally designed furniture and clothing. Reason two: It supports local artists, not only by providing a showcase, but by giving them a bigger cut of the profit. Reason three: It might just be the friendliest store in town, coming and going, with bend-over-backwards customer service and a savvy understanding of its clientele. Plus, owner Samuel Schimek, an artist/designer himself who cut his retailing teeth with I Heart Denver's city-sponsored predecessor, YesPleaseMore, really gets his role as a totally 21st-century retailer. For a while, he even provided space for the Denver Design Incubator program, which recently moved to bigger digs. I Heart Denver rocks the joint, making downtown Denver a better place to shop.

Readers' Choice: Farmers' markets

Best Place to Recycle Everything Including the Kitchen Sink

RAFT

RAFT Colorado

Find yourself with stuff that's too good for the trash but not fit for charitable donation? RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) will take it! The recycling/reuse center takes almost anything — packing materials, office supplies, cloth, even those pesky CD jewel cases that haven't had a home or purpose for a while now. The nonprofit, which provides creative teaching ideas, a shared space and workshops for Colorado educators, repurposes the materials and sells them to teachers at little or no cost in the form of teaching tools; last year, RAFT diverted 17,500 cubic feet of waste from landfills in Colorado. Now, those are standards we can learn from.

When Denver's political and educational leaders teamed up to create a campus several decades ago for three institutions of higher learning just south of downtown, they also set about obliterating a long-established, mostly Hispanic working-class neighborhood. The move has stirred strong feelings over the years, but it also prompted a scholarship program to allow people who lived in the historic Auraria community between 1955 and 1973 (and their children and grandchildren) to attend the University of Colorado Denver, the Community College of Denver and Metropolitan State College of Denver — and start making some history of their own.

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