With the Margarita Bay Club next door, the funky Stella's Coffee House down the street and the University of Denver nearby, Mr. Jay -- Leonard -- figured his store, Highway 420, and the "high-quality urban gear" he sells would fit right in and appeal to college students and the Washington Park crowd.
Even his new landlords, Michael and Donna Przybyski, who own the building and manage Van Genderen Heating and Air Conditioning adjacent to the space, at 610 Louisiana Avenue, seemed excited. Although neither Michael nor Donna accepted Jay's offer to visit his other shop, Nine East, at 9 Ellsworth Avenue, they delighted in the idea of a boutique in their neighborhood.
A five-year lease was discussed. Mr. Jay's first payment of $425 was made in early June, and the new boutique -- as the 37-year-old Jay called his store -- was a done deal. Highway 420 opened on June 22.
Four days later, the Przybyskis asked Jay to leave.
What happened in between will be decided in court, but the trouble may have started a few days earlier, when Michael Przybyski visited the as-yet-unopened store to take a look around.
Although some of the merchandise could be classified as graphic or controversial -- the kind of items commonly found in head shops -- Michael appeared to be excited about it, especially a T-shirt with an illustration of a devil-girl cheerleader showing more than a short skirt, Jay says.
"I brought out a Johnny Suede shirt for him -- you know, that '50s rockabilly kind of stuff -- I thought that would be something someone his age would like," Jay recalls. "But he said, 'No, there's one shirt in particular I like. It's a Coop shirt.'"
So Jay brought out some shirts with the Coop label. "But he said, 'No, no, it's a cheerleader.'" Jay explains. "It wasn't even on the rounder; it was behind a bunch of other shirts on the wall. You know, the girl's beaver is showing -- it's not something I thought they would like at the front. I pulled it, and he said, 'Yep, that's the one.'" Michael, it turned out, is an avid art collector whose collection includes prints by the late Patrick Nagel, an artist who regularly contributed to Playboy.
He also noticed a glass pipe, Jay says, and exclaimed, "That's a hash pipe!"
Jay began to suspect that Michael "was just kind of spying, poking around."
Donna Przybyski also visited on several occasions and seemed less than thrilled about the penis-shaped gummy candies, X-rated fortune cookies and hand-blown glass pipes that she suspected served a purpose other than smoking tobacco, Jay says. In fact, Donna -- who told Jay that she used to be a nun -- suggested that with the addition of Highway 420, South Pearl Street was literally going to hell.
Once, Jay claims, she was practically in tears as she confronted him about the influence his store might have on her fourteen-year-old daughter.
According to Jay, neighbors also came by to explain that Donna hadn't been sleeping because of her concerns and had even called an insurance company -- one that she had originally recommended to Jay -- to say that Highway 420 was going to sell drug paraphernalia.
Jack Phillips, who owns Premier Grooming and Show Supply, at 1290 South Pearl, and is a longtime neighbor of the Przybyskis, says Jay showed Donna a box of sample merchandise that would be sold at Highway 420 and that there was nothing of concern in it. "It was supposed to be a boutique," he says. "She's mad that [Jay] wasn't up-front about it."
Phillips says some of his other neighbors were also concerned about Highway 420 because of the schools in the neighborhood. "There have been big complaints regarding [Jay's] fliers, like 'Smokin' toys for girls and boys,' and 'Free rolling paper for everyone,'" he says.
Tracy Hagelund, the owner of Pearl Street Ice Cream, which sits next door to Van Genderen Heating and Air Conditioning, says she has talked to some people who were upset about the store as well. But she adds, "Lenny came in here a couple of times; he's a really nice guy. He gave me his card, wanting to know if any more neighbors come into my store with irate feelings...but I'm sure [the neighbors] will try to petition him."
On June 25 the Przybyskis asked Jay to change the image of the store within thirty to 45 days by selling more of the colorful dresses and mainstream clothing in his inventory and less of the controversial material. Jay says he agreed because he didn't want to "force what I believe onto other people."
But the next day, Michael Przybyski requested an informal meeting with Jay, where Jay was surprised to see the couple's lawyer. The lawyer told him that the Przybyskis wanted him to vacate the premises.
"I tried to appeal to the husband," Jay says. "Coop is a very famous pop artist. I was like, 'You collect Nagels, man!' I mean, come on. You don't have a right to deem morality."
Nevertheless, Jay closed the store on June 30 and moved out.
Neither Michael nor Donna Przybyski would comment for this story. But their attorney, Joseph Zonies, maintains that Jay was not evicted. He says Jay abandoned the space willingly after he was asked to leave and his $425 was returned. He also says that his clients didn't know what they were buying into in the first place.
"[The Przybyskis'] problem is not what [Jay] sold, it's how he fraudulently misrepresented who he was and exactly what he sold to get where he is today," Zonies says. "I cannot say what they would have done if he was honest with them from the beginning, but they do have a constitutional right to decide with whom they do business and contract."
But in Jay's lawsuit, filed last week in Denver County Court, he claims that the Przybyskis still owe him "costs and expenses" for modifications he made to the store. He is also asking for them to pay his attorney's fees and lost profits.
Jay claims that his profits were five times greater than he originally expected -- even for the few days that he was open. "I sold a glass and a wood pipe to people in the building," he says. "And I sold three bottles of liquid detox. You can't tell me there's not a market in this neighborhood.
"We are not a head shop," he adds. "We are a really cool clothing store for a cross-section of clientele. We do carry hand-blown glass...but whatever [customers] do with that is their business."
Leonard Jay plans to open a new store on East Colfax in mid-September, regardless of the outcome of the suit against the Przybyskis. The store will be renamed "Juicy Boutique," because, as Jay says, "we're juicy -- we're full of flavor."
"You know, if a fourteen-year-old walks in and has never seen a pipe before and doesn't know what it can be used for, he will just see a beautiful piece of glass art," Jay says. "But if you come in here and you are someone who knows what it's used for, that's your problem."