Best Free Service 2021 | Personalized Reading Lists Denver Public Library | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Many libraries have expanded their services to include everything from social worker consultations to 3-D printers, makers' labs and comedy clubs. While these free resources are welcome, has the skill of recommending a good book been pushed to the bottom of the stacks? Not at Denver Public Library, which offers artful personalized reading lists based on online questionnaires that patrons fill out regarding their literary tastes. Librarians who specialize in reader recommendations then respond with thoughtful, handpicked lists along with explanations of their choices. The selections are dead on — and often more surprising and engaging than the picks that Google and Amazon algorithms dredge up.
I Heart Denver Facebook

Although many storefronts remain boarded up and empty, and others have been claimed by national chains, the 16th Street Mall still has heart — thanks to the I Heart Denver Store, which continues to represent this city with pride while supporting more than 200 local artists, designers and other creatives by selling their goods. Whether you're a tourist looking for a Mile High memento or a local shopping for some hometown flair, you'll find state-centric T-shirts, honey, mugs, pins, trinkets, games, puzzles and home decor at various price points. And you'll do your shopping knowing that you're supporting not just this one store, but Denver's entire creative community. Who doesn't heart that?

Few small businesses have a motto like "Social Impact Is Our Brand." But that's how store owner and activist Erika Righter labels Hope Tank — and it's the reason that we keep swinging around to praise her business, which isn't just another gift shop. Righter started out hyping works by local makers at affordable prices, with a promise to donate part of every sale to handpicked nonprofits. And while she's since widened her supplier list, the giving-back aspect remains. Righter also gave mural opportunities to out-of-work artists in 2020, sticks up for BIPOC businesses, supports community services and speaks up for the downtrodden. May Hope Tank always lead the way.

Tran Wills has earned every bit of her entrepreneurial and activist cred over the past decade or two, starting with running the FabricLab in the mid-2000s, when she was nineteen and pregnant, and then expanding to a string of fashion-related gigs, galleries and curated shops. In 2013 she struck gold with her chic, non-toxic nail salon Base Coat, which has since grown across the nation, including several locations inside Nordstrom stores. In a sweet and maybe ironic way, Wills has now been able to reclaim elements of her former creative enterprises by opening Matriarch Mercantile in RiNo, a woman-centric boutique with a gallery devoted to the female and nonbinary muralists of Babe Walls. What goes around comes around, and we are all the luckier for it.

In a world of big-box music and a never-ending onslaught of emerging retail trends, an unpretentious, classic hole-in-the-wall music store is a rare find — and that's why the Colfax Guitar Shop, right across from the Bluebird Theater, strikes all the right notes. Looking to stock up on picks and strings, or need a new capo? The store, which has been around for two decades, has you covered. Have a broken or buzzing instrument? The skilled and friendly luthiers here can fix up your old ax or build you an original custom instrument. If you don't know your pickguard from your pegs, fear not: The Guitar Shop staff welcomes everyone from novices to pros, and you can rest assured that whatever they touch will be finger-pickin' good.

Hosting a production of Cats? A toga party? A Renaissance festival? Maybe you've been roped into a comic con cosplay date or a Revolutionary War re-enactment. Whatever the case, theater geeks and Halloween freaks alike love Disguises: A Costume Superstore, where you can buy or rent outfits for any occasion. With over 100,000 costumes crammed into 16,000 square feet, the shop's experts have you covered. Disguises also offers a wide selection of makeup, wigs and props, and whether you need to escape the dreariness of your life by playing a little dress-up or are looking to outfit yourself for your next social gathering, there's no better place to do it.

For 38 years, the women who own Show of Hands have been creating what they call a "happy place" at the adorable boutique, offering a variety of handmade goods by artists from around the country — with many from Colorado in the mix. The selection of jewelry, greeting cards, sculptures, holiday decorations, posters, photographs, planters and more — available at a wide range of prices for shoppers of any means — makes Show of Hands a one-stop shop for gift buyers. But the kindness, good humor and generosity of the staff are what inspire us to drop by even when there's nothing on our shopping list...and we never leave empty-handed.

Best Store at Denver International Airport

Topo Designs

Yes, you overpacked, and you realize your two carry-ons just aren't going to cut it with your airline. Not to worry: Topo Designs will send you off in style. The company got its start when Jedd Rose was looking for more functional outdoor gear, bought a sewing machine and started making packs in his Fort Collins basement, while Mark Hansen began marketing the design. Today they've expanded their lines to include clothing and accessories, and have grown into two outlets at Denver International Airport beyond the flagship store at 2500 Larimer Street; you can also order online. But hang out at one of the airport shops long enough, and you'll need to grab one of their big bags (lifetime guarantee!) to fit everything you've suddenly decided you can't live without.

Jessica Christie Photography

In 2017, Tory Johnson and Rose Kalasz opened Awakening in RiNo, with the goal of inspiring sex positivity and selling non-toxic, eco-friendly sex toys. Since then, they've opened a second location on Broadway, and have earned a reputation as a safe, gender-inclusive business that empowers people to not only have better orgasms, but better conversations about their sexuality. The shop researches all the items it sells to make sure they are safe for the body and the earth, and the employees behind the counter know what they're talking about. Stop blushing and go discover yourself.

An economic oasis in a neighborhood caught between its working-class Chicano roots and creeping gentrification, RISE Westwood is as grassroots as it gets. You'll find a range of food-related enterprises co-existing side by side, from the community-driven Westwood Food Coop and Mujeres Emprendedoras (a worker-owned, woman-powered co-op offering financial opportunities and job training) to cafe-style retailers like Cultura Chocolate, Cabrona Coffee and Kahlo's, all of which band together for community events and outdoor markets. When RISE says it wants to give Denver a taste of the neighborhood, it really means it.

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