Standing outside the EZE Mop building on an overcast Saturday, watching the cars roll past on 17th Avenue, Stephanie Shearer tries to figure out where her story really begins.
Maybe it was ten years ago, when she and her husband, Chris Dacorn, were opening Soul Haus, a men's clothing shop at 226 East 13th Avenue, and Stephanie dropped by the EZE Mop shop to stock up on supplies. "Maybe it started when I bought a mop and a mop bucket," she muses.
Maybe it was 24 years ago, when Stephanie first moved into the San Rafael neighborhood a few blocks away and discovered the EZE Mop building, which stands on the corner of 17th and Franklin Street and advertises its presence with a huge yellow sign on the roof.
Or maybe the story starts much earlier than that, back before the turn of the last century, when this area was known as Quality Hill and filled with stately, two-story Victorian homes and small shops. Tucked in among those shops was what was probably Denver's first movie theater, a cavernous space with a cement floor and a high tin ceiling, with a little dog-leg of a lobby right on 17th. But then the theater moved to Colfax, where it became the American and later the Ogden, and the building was transformed into a garage; for decades, cars drove drive right across the elegantly tiled floor and onto the cement in back. The Jurenka family finally bought the property in the late '40s, moving into the house to the east, adding another room in front of the theater and setting up the EZE Mop shop in the lobby, where the Jurenkas' claim to fame, the "cone wringer," was touted by the cardboard cutout of a woman who promised, "Hands never touch mop water." Dave Jurenka was only six when his family opened the store, but he ultimately came up with all sorts of applications for his father's invention.
Still, by the middle of this decade, the mop business was all but washed up. So Jurenka closed the shop, put the building on the market and moved to the suburbs.
This was about the same time that Stephanie went to a get-to-know-your-city meeting at the Denver Botanic Gardens, intent on finding out how she could get a trash can for her hip business block, a process tied up in red tape. "A city dude was in awe at the amount of trouble we had getting a trash can and told me I should call him," she remembers. "Next thing I know, he had me talking to his number-one guy." That would be Bryan Slekes at the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, "who convinced me that we were the quintessential poster children of what MOED's mission is and that we, ahem, needed our very own building."
Although Pandora Jewelry, a second store they'd opened at 220 East 13th, still had room to groove, she and Chris realized they'd hit a wall at Soul Haus. "We'd outgrown our walls and were in a place with no growth, and that's not a good business plan," Stephanie says. So they started working on a new plan.
They partnered with Stephanie's mom, Carol Tervo, and began looking at spaces, even considered the EZE Mop building, but it just "seemed so tiny," Stephanie says. And soon it was sold, anyway, to a developer who wanted to save the iconic EZE Mop sign and put a bar below, maybe a restaurant. The partners kept looking, but nothing felt quite right, says Stephanie, who relies on what her mortgage broker calls her "zen business sense."
And then one day early this year, the EZE Mop building came back on the market. Once she got a look inside, Stephanie realized the space wasn't so tiny after all. So the partners offered the $850,000 asking price, upped it by $10,000 when three other bids came in on the same day, and got the building. That's when MOED stepped in, again. "Maybe that's when the story really starts," Stephanie determines. "It's their fault. They talked us into it."
Now that she had a second chance at the building, Stephanie wasn't about to lose it, even in a lousy economy. "A down economy is a time of opportunity," she points out. So they polished their concept for the EZE Mop Shopping District, a concept that now fills an eight-inch-thick file at MOED. It calls for putting a new women's accessory shop, Peppermint, in the old lobby (the EZE Mop cutout will stand guard here) and moving Soul Haus into the fifty-year-old addition next to the lobby, then blowing a hole through the wall straight back through the old theater. That will be more than enough room to grow Soul Haus into a proper "man place," as Stephanie describes it, with a '51 T-bird converted to shelving, and stools scattered around so that men can sit and shoot the breeze when they're not looking at "man stuff." And right next door to that will be Arthur Williams's flower shop, Babylon, which he currently runs out of a tiny space on Colfax. The rest of the theater space in back will be a perfect workshop for his floral designs — and that big sidewalk out front will be just the spot for flower carts. "Arthur was a part of our vision before he even knew it," Stephanie says.
That vision is for "local business done right. Green and local," she says. Right under the restored EZE Mop sign, in a place where "shopping has never been EZier."
Then there's the old house where the Jurenkas lived. A banker told Stephanie that it wasn't worth more than the land on which it stands (one round of restaurant plans called for tearing it down and building a parking lot), but the partners saw value in its history, in its elegant Victorian lines. And so she and Chris plan to turn the upstairs into three very cheap offices for nonprofits (they will continue to donate 6 percent of all shop proceeds to charity, as they currently do) and transform the downstairs into a mercantile complete with a coffee cart (they've already bought the original coffee bar from the Tattered Cover) and a little screening room that filmmakers can use for free if they'll just pay the barista. There will be puppy posts out front so that customers can come with their dogs, and games on the lawn, and tables outside where everyone can make themselves right at home in the neighborhood.
They figured it would cost a million dollars to complete the deal — "I'm an anti-millionaire," Stephanie says — and the bank they were talking to saw a gap in financing. "Which is how we got involved," Slekes says. The EZE Mop project is an ideal fit with MOED's goals, he explains, "which are first and foremost job creation." But restoring the building will also eliminate "blighting influences" and increase property values with "three retail businesses that directly service the neighborhood." Still, even with MOED filling the financial gap with HUD dollars from the agency's revolving loan fund, the bank pulled out at the last second.
Stephanie called Slekes, and he started dialing. "I got them an answer in the time they needed," he says. Key Bank came on board in time for the deal to close on March 24.
Demolition may start this week. If the architect and the construction crew and the partners can stick to their schedule, the shops will start moving in over the July 4 weekend, with a grand opening sometime in August. Whenever the mayor can come, Stephanie says. After all, John Hickenlooper knows all about finding opportunity in a down economy; that's when he started the Wynkoop Brewing Company.
But there's still plenty of hard work before the EZE Mop Shopping District becomes a reality. The building is full of decades of dust and grime, as well as old linoleum and a weird furnace made out of two barrels (their mechanic wants that, Stephanie says). A neighbor recently told Stephanie about the existence of a third basement accessed from the back porch of the house. Down below, she and Chris found stacks of World War II newspapers, old farm equipment, even an ancient accordion. They think the space was the boiler room for the theater — and that reminds them of the old movie theater seats they bought years ago when the Ogden was renovated. They're planning to move them into the screening room in what they're calling the Grind Haus, right by where the theater got its start. "It's starting to feel really crazy, bizarre," Stephanie says. "It's feeling meant to be."
Particularly since they're still waiting for their trash can on 13th.
EZE does it.