Arts and Culture

After Two Decades, Mod Livin' Founders Sell, Say Goodbye to Denver

Mod Livin' founders Erick Roorda and Jill Warner have sold their vintage furniture shop.
Mod Livin' founders Erick Roorda and Jill Warner have sold their vintage furniture shop. Kyle Harris
Just over twenty years ago, Jill Warner and husband Erick Roorda found that their mid-century modern furniture collection was taking over their lives. Roorda worked in customer service for United, and Warner served as a flight attendant for Continental. But in their spare time, they had been scouring estate sales, flea markets and thrift stores looking for treasures. Finally, they decided to open a shop to share their passion.

With no business plan but a ton of ambition, in August 2001 they launched Mod Livin' at 5327 East Colfax Avenue. On opening day, customers were lined out the door, eager to browse their collection. Roorda left his job with United to run the shop while Warner continued her gig as a flight attendant, working at the store whenever she was home.

A month later, planes crashed into the World Trade Center. A few weeks after that, a drunk driver crashed through the Mod Livin' storefront. Customers came out in support of the boarded-up business; even people with no interest in buying furniture poured in, handing them hundred-dollar bills, wishing the couple success.

"You've got to buy something," Warner would tell them.

Despite the topsy-turvy start, over the past two decades, the shop has become a landmark among Denver's locally owned vintage and new furniture stores.

"We had a rough start in the beginning," recalls Warner. "Customers stood by us and supported us. There’ve been so many businesses over the last twenty years that have come and gone, and we feel incredibly fortunate."

The store has seen the rise and fall of brick-and-mortar and internet retail. A year or two after opening, Mod Livin' launched an online storefront. For ten years, 50 percent of its business came from around the country. Then, as Wayfair and Amazon cut into online sales a decade ago, the Mod Livin' storefront became the business's main moneymaker again.

"It’s weird. You think, 'Oh, if you have a website, people would buy from all over.' They don’t anymore," says Warner. "If you think about where you buy, are you going to buy from a small retailer in Denver, Colorado, or Wayfair, that’s huge? You feel safer about it, even though I think Wayfair has horrible customer service."

Despite the ever-shifting retail economy, business at Mod Livin' has only grown. "Our sales have never dipped over the whole twenty years," Warner says. "They’ve gone up and stayed up."

Warner and Roorda tried opening up second shops in various neighborhoods, but they proved short-lived. The focus remained on the East Colfax Avenue store.

But now the couple is moving on.
click to enlarge Mod Livin's soon-to-be-owner Craig Troyer and co-founder Jill Warner. - JILL WARNER
Mod Livin's soon-to-be-owner Craig Troyer and co-founder Jill Warner.
Jill Warner
After COVID-19 hit a year ago, the couple packed up and moved to a beachfront property in Oregon. They've sold the Mod Livin' business to shop manager Craig Troyer, who came from a big-box-retail career at Target to take over a short-lived RiNo outpost, Modern Nomad, four years ago.

Warner and Roorda are now looking for a buyer of the building, which makes the longtime location of Mod Livin' uncertain. Troyer plans to keep it where it is as long as he can, but says if he has to move, he'd like to keep the shop somewhere on Colfax.

"It’s still going to be around, and it’s still going to feel the same," says Warner. "He’s been running it for four years. He’s not going to do anything different now that I'm not there to boss him around. He’s got the same work ethic and the same desire. It’s a perfect match."

Starting today and running through this weekend, Mod Livin' will be bidding goodbye to its founders with a 30 percent off sale to clear out Warner and Roorda's merchandise. After that, Troyer will bring in his own inventory, which honors the store's legacy but also offers his signature touch.

"I think Mod Livin’ is a staple in Denver," Troyer says. "That reputation is built on having exceptional products and really beautiful vintage pieces in the store...and staying true to the aesthetic that made it successful."

Find out more at Mod Livin's website.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris