Business

Petal to the Metal: Revamped Roselady Flower Shop Reopens on West Colfax

The Roselady is back in business on West Colfax Avenue.
The Roselady is back in business on West Colfax Avenue. Catie Cheshire
The Rose Lady is back in bloom.

From 1985 until her death in 2018, Debbie Orban-Rosen ran the Rose Lady, a flower store that was an eclectic landmark at 3921 West Colfax Avenue. After she passed, two of her three daughters operated the shop for a while, then closed it after Valentine’s Day 2019.

But just before this past Valentine's Day, one of those daughters, Daniele Riopelle, reopened the shop as Roselady Co., in honor of her mother.

“It's kind of one of those things when you're a kid growing up in your parent’s business where you're like, ‘I'm never gonna do flowers. I'm never gonna do that,’” Riopelle says. “Then, about a year ago, one of my best friends was getting married, and I ended up doing her wedding flowers and…realizing that it was something that I really did enjoy.”

That friend was Gabby LaBarbara, who's joined Riopelle as a partner in the new venture. On her wedding day, she watched Riopelle setting up the flowers while she was getting her hair and makeup done, and she knew her friend needed to get back in the flower game. “I was looking through the window into the backyard, and I could see her out there living her best life with the flowers,” LaBarbara recalls.
click to enlarge Gabby LaBarbara's wedding got Daniele Riopelle back into flowers. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Gabby LaBarbara's wedding got Daniele Riopelle back into flowers.
Catie Cheshire
The pair renovated the space, painting many of the fixtures crimson to symbolize red roses — and covering the green and yellow walls that Riopelle says always reminded her of a preschool.

Despite the update, the duo is honoring the past, too, celebrating the family history in the area.

Debbie Orban had started selling flowers on street corners and outside of banks downtown before opening a physical shop across from the building that now houses Roselady. She also worked with hospitals, striking deals where she sold them plants and flowers and donated back some of her profits.

In the early 1990s, she married Jerry Rosen. The building she leased for her shop, like much of the property in the immediate area, had been in his family since 1919. Orban-Rosen brought not just her love of flowers, but her daughters, including Riopelle, into the family fold.

At the time, Jerry's parents ran Rosen's Delicatessen, which had opened back in 1945 at 3921 West Colfax, and lived next door. By the late 1990s, both of them had passed away. Orban-Rosen moved the Rose Lady into the former home of the deli.

Though she didn't have formal floral training, Riopelle says that her mother had always been a creative person and took to it naturally. "She just had a really good eye, and she could look at something and then re-create it," she says.
click to enlarge Deborah Orban-Rosen watches over the shop. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Deborah Orban-Rosen watches over the shop.
Catie Cheshire
By the late 1990s, though, Orban-Rosen recognized that the flower business was changing. She noticed that chains like Costco were offering flowers, and thought that mom-and-pop flower shops might get edged out of the market. So she came up with a new plan.

“She just started to diversify and tried to offer more services that people needed,” Riopelle recalls. That diversification saw her open a bail bonds shop across the street. She added a cremation business next to the flower shop, along with a barber shop, a hookah lounge, a tattoo shop and a nail salon in the same strip. In the 2000s, Riopelle opened a medical dispensary there, too.

“She was very hands-on in everything that she did,” Riopelle says of her mother. “If she was interested in something, she would do the research. She even went to barber school and nail school so that she could really understand the business and grow the businesses.”
click to enlarge Rose Lady Cremations, another family business, is next door. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Rose Lady Cremations, another family business, is next door.
Catie Cheshire
Two of those businesses are still in the family today: Jerry Rosen runs the cremation business and the bail bonds shop, though he doesn’t do much there these days. He prefers to be selective with the bonds he issues and focuses more on the cremation business. It doesn't operate a traditional funeral home on West Colfax; instead, it caters to low-income families who are looking for a way to give their loved ones a proper sendoff. Rosen works with an off-site facility to do the actual cremations.

Riopelle's sister moved her law practice into the space where Rosen's parents once lived, right next to what is now Roselady. A few doors down, Kaya Cannabis leases space from the family, and the family rents out booths in the nearby tattoo shop. There’s a new deli across the street, where the family has leased most of its property.

Art was important to Orban-Rosen. Roselady and the bail bonds shop are covered with murals of baby angels, which Riopelle says her mom loved. She remembers street artists coming in and asking if they could paint on the building and her mother always saying yes, despite the fact that the city didn’t always appreciate the work.
click to enlarge Deborah Orban-Rosen let street artists paint the side of her shop. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Deborah Orban-Rosen let street artists paint the side of her shop.
Catie Cheshire
Orban-Rosen's enthusiasm for street art is partly responsible for the building's eclectic look. Though the inside is now decked out with that red paint, neon signs and flowers galore, the outside is still green on one side, brick on another and angel-covered on another. It also has a worn sign advertising the website, along with a few more angels that have hung around since the Rose Lady first opened. Riopelle says she'd like to replace the sign eventually; for now, it's part of the living history at the shop.

“She had a really amazing story in the community and always was kind of seen as a staple,” Riopelle says of her mother.

While this part of Colfax has gone through some rough patches over the years, Orban-Rosen always insisted that it would be hip one day. And that prediction is coming true, with the developments south of Sloan's Lake and the promise of a revived Casa Bonita to the west.

“It's kind of sad, in a way, because my mom isn't here to see how much it's changed,” Riopelle says. “But at the same time, it is really amazing to see.”

LaBarbara never got to meet Orban-Rosen but says she feels like she’s getting acquainted. At least once a day, someone comes in and says that they knew and loved her, sharing a story about a time when Orban-Rosen helped them out or made them smile. A customer recently told LaBarbara that after she heard the shop had reopened, his grandmother made him promise that her funeral flowers would be from Roselady.

“We always joke that her mom is still a hustler around here," LaBarbara says.
click to enlarge Daniele Riopelle grew up arranging flowers. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Daniele Riopelle grew up arranging flowers.
Catie Cheshire
Although Riopelle is maintaining the family tradition with the shop, she’s also making it her own, promising personalization, creating themed bouquets and advertising arrangements dedicated to Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and cold brew on the shop's Instagram. Roselady also offers custom boxes with flowers, jewelry and other items handpicked by Riopelle and LaBarbara for every occasion, from birthdays to bad days.

“Something that you would buy from us is not your traditional product,” Riopelle says. “I get to know [clients] and their personalities, so when they tell me what they're looking for, I can help envision, and create, what they're really wanting.”

Riopelle has three children, two of whom still live with her. She remembers growing up around the shop with her sisters and bringing her oldest daughter in when she was young. She’s grateful that her other children will have that same experience, coming to Roselady on weekends or after school.

“It's really come full circle,” she concludes.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire