When one train pulls out of the station, another pulls in. That's how it seems to be working out for Stephanie Shearer and Chris Bacorn -- with a little help from "What Does LoDo Need," a contest we told you about earlier this year.
The two have figured out what Denver likes -- and how to make small business work in hip neighborhoods. That's why their jewelry store, Pandora on the Hill, has thrived in Capitol Hill for twenty years, and why they were able to open two more local-centric boutiques, Peppermint and Soul Haus, in the EZE Mop building on East 17th that they bought five years ago and renovated into a hip hangout.
Lower Downtown isn't known for hip shopping as much as it is for tourists, glitzy restaurants and drunken bar and baseball crowds. But Shearer and Bacorn think that the neighborhood has evolved over the years and it's ready for small, locally owned stores, which is why they planned to open a fourth store, Queen City Trading Company, inside the rejuvenated Union Station, which opened in late July.
But just a month and a half before go time, the deal fell apart.
"Union Station is one of the most exciting developments in the country. I'm super-proud of our city that it is filled with Denver-based businesses. We wanted to be a part of it," Shearer says. "We were in discussions with Union Station and Larimer Associates for about eight months. But our space kept getting smaller and smaller.
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"I like to say that it was a Goldilocks experience: We couldn't find the right fit," she adds. And in the end, the arrangement just didn't work out. Instead, a second location of 5 Green Boxes moved into Union Station.
But that doesn't mean LoDo isn't ready for small boutiques -- or that Shearer and Bacorn have given up on the area. In an interesting twist of fate, they learned in mid-August that they had won the "What Does LoDo Need" competition sponsored by Alpine Bank -- and a $100,000, two-year, interest-free loan to go along with it.
Glenwood Springs-based Alpine Bank, also new to LoDo, designed the contest as a way to gather input from locals about what kinds of shops and businesses were needed in LoDo. It stirred up interest this spring with 83 chalked announcements on sidewalks sending people to a website that pronounced: "In 25 square blocks, LoDo has boutique clothing stores, multi-story nightclubs and everything in between. Well, maybe not everything. Maybe LoDo is just one thing, place or business short of everything. And we want to know what it is. So, tell us. What do you think LoDo needs?"
Alpine collected suggestions, then applications from a variety of enterprises that wanted the loan. Queen City topped them all.
When it opens, Queen City will specialize in cards, jewelry and gifts produced by local, independent artists -- as Pandora, Soul Haus and Peppermint already do. "All of our stores carry local and regional merchandise, and all of them donate a portion to charity. Queen City would be the cream of the crop of that," Shearer says.
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But first Shearer, Bacorn and business partner Carol Tervo will have to find a location. It would have been nice to have been able to use that loan to open in Union Station, but there was "some sort of Karmic miss there," Shearer says. So, instead, Queen City will open somewhere nearby.
"We are looking for a forward-thinking developer and are hoping that one of them can understand that LoDo doesn't need another block of a few 3,000-square-foot spaces, but an entire block of 1,000-square-foot spaces," she explains. "That is what makes places like Highland and South Broadway and Capitol Hill so dynamic, and that is how you build a neighborhood.
"There are cool, hip people in LoDo looking for this kind of community. Now they need a grocery store and a hip strip of community shops; Alpine Bank, to their credit, knows this," she adds. "We are hoping to find that block and then be the first one, and then talk our South Broadway and Colfax friends into being over there, too. That is my dream of building that small, locally owned retail core."
And it sounds like just what LoDo needs.