Best Adult Store 2021 | Awakening | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.

Through many moves, new stores, new markets and constant upsizing and downsizing, the Tattered Cover has always managed to retain its hallmark cozy familiarity. And exciting things are happening again. After the independent chain was purchased in December, owners David Back and Kwame Spearman brought in entrepreneur Clara Villarosa, who once nurtured the Hue-Man Experience bookstore in Five Points, to curate a new Black lit division. Plans are also under way to open a children's book store this summer at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, and to bring to fruition a new TC branch in Westminster. And coming soon: the new LoDo store at McGregor Square by Coors Field. Welcome to the 21st century!

Four metro locations (LoDo store closed for a move)
Courtesy of The Bookies

The best bookstores don't just cater to current bookworms — they breed new ones! And no store does this better than the Bookies, a strip-mall spot that focuses on serving children, families and teachers. While we've managed to shop here without buying anything for ourselves, we've spent more than we care to admit on books and educational toys for the kids in our lives. Bookies employees — most of whom have the air of veteran high school poetry teachers — are experts at recommendations, and the outstanding stacked-to-the-ceiling selection is a joy to browse.

Four decades in, Capitol Hill Books found itself on the brink of closure during the pandemic. In a testament to how passionate this community is about legacy East Colfax Avenue businesses, readers rallied and saved it. So the shop, just across from the Colorado Capitol, carried on, and today continues to offer a wide range of affordably priced used books, from classics to hard-to-find tomes. There's even a mystery box, handpicked by the shop's staff. Although you could — and can — browse here for hours, the store also offers online shopping options. And while Capitol Hill Books is not currently buying used books, it's accepting donations that could help ensure that we all live happily ever after.

When you walk into the massive warehouse that is Mile High Comics headquarters, you'll want to hold on to your pocketbook and keep a close eye on your watch. You're going to be tempted to spend hundreds and while away your entire day in this massive concrete palace of geekdom, which boasts a collection of 10 million comics and 300,000 comic and trade hardbacks and paperbacks. In recent years, owner and drag queen Chuck Rozanski has hosted an all-ages drag show here that has been a boon for queer youth. The shop also offers a vast selection of collectible toys, T-shirts and figurines, and is home to several cats that make occasional appearances.
Ken Hamblin III

The lines winding out of Twist & Shout are proof that this Colfax Avenue record shop has earned its reputation as a must-stop spot for vinyl, CDs, DVDs and music ephemera. The store has an amazing selection of new and used albums, along with a staff that knows how to help you find what you're looking for and discover up-and-coming and obscure artists. As pandemic restrictions loosen, we're looking forward to seeing Twist & Shout bring back some of its intimate live-music performances from international and local acts alike — and in the meantime, we're happy to see the shop continue its long tradition of supporting local musicians by keeping their albums on the racks.

The bones of the beloved Market, which stood at this Larimer Square address for decades, are still present in a ghostly way, right down to the familiar tiled entryway. And just as the Market was a gathering place for the entire city, Josh Sampson's Larimer Records Cafe serves a similar function, with an updated millennial shtick: It's a bustling, relaxed meeting place for coffee and food, but it's also a vinyl store, complete with listening stations, rotating themed music brunches and nights with live DJs, and drinks with names like Sympathy for the Devil, Ring of Fire and Walk on the Wild Side. Can't find what you're looking for? Try Garage Sale, just across Larimer.

Hanging out with a cocktail while you shop is becoming a trend, as is vinyl collecting, and Garage Sale is proof that the combo works. The mashup of vintage clothing, vinyl albums and a classic Wild Turkey Old-Fashioned or Manhattan sipped indoors or on the open-street patio make this a sweet place to chill, day or night. Planning a Denver staycation? This should be your first stop.

Last fall, the Latino Cultural Arts Center reached out to people feeling the loss of traditional Day of the Dead celebrations along the Front Range by assembling ofrendas kits that people could buy, then use to build their own altars to the dead at home. Giving this concept new life was an ingenious twist: LCAC hired Latino artists to create a variety of traditional handmade elements to stock the DIY kits, including felt hearts, paper butterflies, calaveras (skulls), Mexican prayer candles and other decorative and symbolic items. And the concept lives on: LCAC has already sent out a call to artists for a second round in 2021.

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