Tennyson Street Businesses Try to Stay Afloat Through Construction, Scrape-offs

A new mixed-use development towers over two historic bungalows slated for demolition on Tennyson Street.
A new mixed-use development towers over two historic bungalows slated for demolition on Tennyson Street. Paige Yowell
Construction on Tennyson Street is nothing new, but independent business owners on the shopping strip are playing a game of musical chairs trying to find retail space in the area as historic (and affordable) buildings are picked off one by one by developers.

At least three small businesses will be forced to move or have already moved as their buildings, mostly bungalow and Victorian homes built in the 1900s that have been converted to retail space, have been sold out from under them. Men's barbershop and clothing store Spruce, XO Gift Co. and Feral Mountain Co. are all in process of moving their stores elsewhere on Tennyson Street as developers make room for more condos and high-end retail space.

Spruce has found a new spot at 4252 Tennyson Street, not even a block away, says Becca Romero, who co-owns the shop with her husband. Romero hopes to have the shop moved by early October. Feral has launched a crowdfunding campaign to aid its move into the Flesher-Hinton Building, as Westword has reported.

"We're putting as many provisions in the new lease as we can in case the same thing happens again. There's no guarantee we won't [be in] this exact same situation all over again," says Romero.

Mammoth American Tattoo, formerly next door to Spruce, moved out of the neighborhood earlier this summer, to 1919 East 26th Avenue, after its building was sold out for the same development slated for Spruce's property.

Owner William Thidemann says he lost some staff and a fair amount of business when he moved to the new neighborhood in July. The free-for-all development is threatening to kill the neighborhood, he says.

"The City of Denver fuckin' failed Tennyson Street," laments Thidemann, who says there should have been more restrictions on what constitutes "mixed-use" and what construction was allowed.

While development in the city has been near-constant for the past five or six years, construction on Tennyson Street has accelerated rapidly over the past year or two, Thidemann claims.

"There's not a day you don't hear construction there, you don't hear about somebody moving. That was the narrative of the last six months," he says.

Owners of XO Gift Co. couldn't be reached, but a sign up the street from its current spot indicates that the shop will be moving this month. Property records show the building was bought by Tennyson Street Properties LLC in 2013.

Marc Lavoie, financial manager at Second Star to the Right Children's Books, says his store is also planning a move, though under completely different circumstances. He owns the building, which is on the other side of Spruce; his wife, Dea Lavoie, owns the bookstore. Lavoie says he's in the process of selling the building, an old Victorian home, but he doesn't know what the new use will be.

The bookstore is "bursting at the seams," Lavoie says, and will reopen in a new space at 1545 South Pearl Street next year.

Three other homes across the street from César Chávez Park were demolished within the past week to make way for a new mixed-use development, a construction worker on site confirmed.

click to enlarge Three homes were demolished here within the past week. A mixed-use development with ground-floor retail space and condos above will rise in their place. - PAIGE YOWELL
Three homes were demolished here within the past week. A mixed-use development with ground-floor retail space and condos above will rise in their place.
Paige Yowell
The change has been making other business owners a little uneasy — even the ones who own their buildings, like Nicole Sullivan, who owns BookBar.

"The construction in and of itself doesn't bother me so much, because I know we will see new faces and customers when it is all said and done," says Sullivan. "My bigger worry is losing part of the character and history that Tennyson used to be known for."

Later this fall, Sullivan plans to demolish the garage behind BookBar to build a two-story, 2,000-square-foot event and office space, but she says she's aiming to match the original style and architecture of the old Victorian home that houses BookBar — unlike some of the newer, more modern developments on the street.

"I just hope that anyone buying or selling considers and respects the character and history of the street and the neighborhood," says Sullivan.

Niya Gingerich, owner of Local 46 and president of the Tennyson/Berkeley Business District Association, says development is a double-edged sword. On one hand, more density will hopefully bring more people to the neighborhood. On the other, newer buildings with high rents could price out small businesses that make Tennyson Street unique.

"We really don't want to see that. Our whole motto is keep Tennsyon Street local, keep it small," says Gingerich.

Nearby business owner Heather Noyes, owner of StudioCPG, a landscape architecture firm, says she's encouraged to see more mixed-use developments on the way, with retail space at the street level. Condos and tall apartment buildings that don't face the street aren't good for the neighborhood, adds Noyes.

"Our neighborhood really is excited about change; it's the lack of design and lack of quality construction and when structures turn their back on the street that is just really detrimental to the long-term viability of the neighborhood," she explains.
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Paige Yowell joined Westword as a staff writer in 2018. Born and raised in Nebraska, she previously worked as a business reporter for the Omaha World-Herald.
Contact: Paige Yowell