While the real estate listing for the Mercury Cafe, a legendary Denver venue, just appeared on LoopNet last weekend, owner Marilyn Megenity had actually been in talks with a restaurant group fifteen months ago about selling her business, which she’s run at various locations since the late ’70s. Then COVID-19 happened.
“We all said, ‘Let's talk in a couple months when this is over,’” Megenity recalls. “After several months, they decided they didn't want to buy another restaurant because they were taking care of the restaurants they own. It's been rough for all of us.”
Megenity was 69 years old during those initial talks. She’s seventy now and is looking for the right person or group of people to buy the Mercury, who would take good care of it and also allow her to continue to be involved. Ideally, she’d like to sell to someone who already loves the Mercury, knows how to run a restaurant and has owned one.
About three weeks ago, Megenity says, she was approached by a potential buyer. She was unclear whether he was a developer or somebody who just flips real estate. Whoever he was, the man made a decent offer on the spot.
“I didn't want to sell to him,” she says, “but I didn't want to be stupid either, because I'm old, and I really looked forward to selling it a year ago to this young group of qualified, really nice people who wanted to keep the Mercury exactly the way it is.”
Megenity says that when the listing, which says the 9,870-square-foot venue on a prime corner downtown is going for $2,000,000, went up on March 13 (when the moon was in Pisces), she never expected the response it would get.
“There’s a lot of interest, and I'm grateful for that, and I think that that will help me pick,” she says — though she doesn't anticipate a transition until summer or later.
Megenity bought the building that houses the Mercury's current location, at 2199 California Street, in 1990, after a few bad experiences with landlords at previous locations in Capitol Hill. She says a landlord there kicked her out on two different occasions because he thought he could just take over her business.
“I'm so glad that I was able to buy this building,” she says of the Merc’s current location. “I had bad landlord trouble in restaurants and nightclubs all over Capitol Hill before I bought this building. It taught me that I needed to own the building.”
While Megenity owns her space, she’s still endured many of the same problems that restaurant and venue owners face: slim margins.
“But I also serve organic food, which means I'm spending more money for food than most people are,” she says. “I’m committed to local organic food and farmers.”
Over four-plus decades, Megenity says, her time running the Mercury has been nothing but fun.
“I'm spoiled by exquisite live music and wordsmiths,” she says. “I've had lots of international acts here. I cherish the local musicians in our city so much and theater people and dancers — all the people who have painted beautiful murals all over the Mercury, and the cooks who really care about food.”
During the pandemic, the Mercury launched an emergency GoFundMe campaign, which has raised over $100,000 so far. Artists have thrown fundraisers. The city has shown up.
“I'm really grateful for the community support that I have received during COVID, or we wouldn't be here,” Megenity says.
The Mercury has been open Fridays through Sundays for food and live entertainment; starting in April, it will be open on Thursdays, as well.
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