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Historic Preservation Month tribute to Denver's version of 7-11: Kenny Be's Special Report

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The ad shown above was found on agilitynut.com, a Debra Jane Setzer website devoted to vanishing American roadside design that includes noteworthy Denver attractions. When published, the Big Top convenience store advertisement listed eight locations. A message on Groceriteria.com suggests that the local chain grew to sixteen stores. Only five of the iconic buildings remain... Pictured above, the original Big Top convenience store location still stands at 845 South Federal Blvd., in the Westwood neighborhood. Originally known as Auto Mart, the store was opened by Denver investors who were inspired by a Texas-based convenience store chain that went by the name of 7-11.

Designed by the Denver architecture firm of Kellogg & Sayre, the store was renamed Big Top in 1958 to correspond with the building's circus-tent appearance. Three Big Tops were built in 1959 but had trouble getting slow-paced Denver shoppers to accept the higher price of quicker service.

Below, a November 2, 1959 Vendor Billboard magazine article reveals Big Top's business model... According to the article reprinted above, Big Top owner John Roscoe was unpleasantly surprised to find that "volume was below expectations." Apparently, customers wanted more vending machines. By 1964, several Big Top stores also added self-service gas pumps. The Big Top building pictured above was built in Harvey Park when the Brentwood Center was Denver's hottest new mall, featuring the best selection of national retail chain stores. Currently operating as Country Gas, the aging beauty is still pumping out the snacks, beverages and cigarettes. Below, the beautiful back-story of the Aurora Big Top building... The former Big Top store in Aurora is currently operating as Lek's Asian Market. The building pictured above sits among several mid-century marvels that line Del Mar Circle.

Hopefully here, in the historic Hoffman Heights District, this "eye-catching structure built along the lines of a Chinese pagoda" can be monitored by Jim Sayre, the Aurora Manager of Development (and son of original Big Top building architect William B. Sayre).

Below, renovators of the West Highland Big Top building need more bread... The former Big Top store in West Highland operated as the Hair Shaft salon for the last two decades. Property records show that it was purchased in January of 2010 by James Seidel, owner of Boulder-based Snarf's Sub Shop. Neighbors claim that contractors gutted the building months ago and work has yet to resume.

Vandals have since removed air compressors from a four-foot platform on the side of the building, which makes it easy for urban adventurers to access the inviting, skateboard-friendly roof.

Below, the last, best Big Top building... While the Big Top store in Cherry Creek still happily functions as a Gigantic Cleaners Laundry, the store at 5930 South Broadway can only be seen at The Denver Eye.

More from our Kenny Be/Comics archive: "Cartoon yard-art garden at Pop's Garage in Lakewood: Kenny Be's Yard Arteology."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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