Dispensaries versus cupcake shops: Denver's development guru considers the pot-store deluge

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It's impossible to travel around our fair city without noticing all the dispensaries. They seem to be popping up on every street corner, sometimes right across the street from each other.

So what does this mean from an urban-development perspective? There's likely no one better equipped to answer that question than Ken Schroeppel, the scribe behind the region's number-one source for all things related to development and urbanism: the DenverInfill blog. Schroeppel and his colleagues working on his recently upgraded site leave no stone unturned when it comes to analyzing the physical evolution of the metropolitan area.

So we turned to Schroeppel to weigh in on the impact of all these pot shops. Is it a good thing for our neighborhoods and our business districts, not to mention the city's overall reputation?

Yes and no, says Schroeppel. On one hand, it's a encouraging when any sort of business colonizes what has hitherto been a vacant or shabby storefront, he says. There are also some examples of very polished and professional dispensary operations around the city.

On the other hand, since only a small fraction of the population can frequent these businesses and new city rules have banned on-site consumption, dispensaries don't bring the sort of foot traffic and energy that can be generated in a neighborhood by, say, a hot new bar or restaurant (or, for that matter, a hipsterific cupcake shop). The net impact is more like a new doctor's office, says Schroeppel: "It's benign."

To give an example, he points to the ReLeaf Center, a dispensary that's been open for several months at the corner of 32nd Avenue and Tejon Street in northwest Denver. It's occupying what had been an empty storefront, which is a good thing. But the dispensary, with bars on its windows and an interior security door shielding what's going on inside, clearly hasn't had the same impact on the surrounding community as the LoHi SteakBar, a busy new restaurant that opened kitty-corner to the ReLeaf Center at roughly the same time.

"I think it's completely neutral," says Schroeppel of the ReLeaf Center's impact. And that's better than what he sees in the suburbs, where more conservative residents and shoppers may view the opening of dispensaries as a bad thing for the community, even if they're taking over previously vacant retail space

Don't get Schroeppel wrong, however. As he puts it, "In my opinion, the legalization of marijuana is long overdue."

When that day finally comes, he can envision the proliferation of pot lounges and other businesses open to all adults that could prove pivotal to neighborhood revitalization. And at that point Denver would be ahead of the curve -- since he thinks that the city overall has already benefited from its new "mile high" reputation.

"Conceptually, I think it's cool. It adds to Denver's hip factor," says Schroeppel of the dispensary boom. "It's complementary to our ski-bum, outdoorsy, individualistic and independent reputation. It fits with our culture."

Who knows, he concludes: "What coffee and grunge did for Seattle, maybe pot can do for Denver."

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