Ink! Coffee Continues the Tale of Two Denvers

“The West is an interrupted dream. Different groups of people that have come to the west have interrupted the natural evolution of the groups that they found there. We have a constant metting and migration of groups and the real story is how the groups affect each other.”

I heard this on a recent viewing of Ken Burns documentary, “The West.” This can be applied to Denver, our city is an interrupted dream from those who are happy with the city as it is versus those who want to imagine a great city.

That slogan, “Imagine a Great City” is attributed to Mayor Federico Pena, but this has been Denver’s unofficial slogan since its founding. There is a Denver that isn’t satisfied until we are considered a major league city like New York, Los Angeles Miami or Chicago.

Every Mayor since has helped transform Denver into a destination city. Not since post World War II has this town been transformed in such a short amount of time. You can’t deny the change that occurred in northwest Denver, aka the North Side. Portions of downtown Denver is unrecognizable to even the most native Denverite. Real estate developers are tearing through Five Points.

Real estate agencies have turned historic neighborhoods into an acronym soup, LoHi, Rino, SloSo and the name Highlands has been used to describe other neighborhood, East Highlands, South Highlands, East by Southeast Highlands. Anything to increase the property value through uncreative branding.

Denverites do not need a reminder about gentrification, but we got one last week when Ink! Coffee posted a sign that read “Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood since 2014.” The sign was on display at Ink! Coffee’s 29th and Larimer location, part of what is being called the RiNo neighborhood.

This neighborhood is the latest to transformed from a working-class neighborhood populated by a once predominant African American population to another trendy place for yuppies to hang their hat.

Five Points isn’t the first neighborhood to go through a radical transformation. Just look on the other side of I-25 and witness what once Northwest Denver. It’s now LoHi, the HIghlands, a home away from home for young professionals who love yoga, fusion bistros and generic mixed-use condos standing where multi-generational families once stood.

It’s difficult to describe how I feel about what’s going on in Denver without bringing up the history of my neighborhood. Northwest Denver, or the Highlands, Sunnyside portion of town has been home to several different ethnic groups. First the Irish and Italian community called it home, then after a while Mexican-Americans moved in when the suburbs became more appealing to the white middle class.

Learning to live with each other wasn’t easy, cultural differences and stereotypes would be chipped away on an individual basis. Each group understood the value of hard work and pursuing the American Dream.

In the early 2000s, if not sooner the next wave moved in, not looking to maintain the community spirit, but create a vision of their own. House-by-house, realtors purchased parcels of land to transform single-family homes into mixed-use condos. Instead of having five families many times more would live on the same plot of land.

Rent and property value went up, forcing many families who had older family members determine if they can afford to live their or sell to realtors and cash-in while they could. So many of the institutions have been razed or rebranded, Subway Tavern, Dickinson Plaza, Pagliacci’s, Elitch Lanes and many others exist only in memory.

The Ink! Coffee fiasco stings at the heart of many old school Denverites who are losing a piece of their city block-by-block. Not every building is sacred but the wholesale change going on in the Mile High City is nearly unparalleled.

Some would ask what is a Denverite and the simple answer is that it’s any person who is living in Denver. They have moved in for a week or 80 years and they should be considered a Denverite.

The more interesting question is what makes a Denverite? Is it the collective experiences that we share and the places we frequent. This is more difficult since each generation has a different vision of Denver. I grew up during a time when the neighborhood still had Elitch Gardens on 38th and Tennyson, Elitch Lanes across the street, Rock Island, a downtown that wasn’t a trendy hub but full of warehouses. A Chubby’s where you had to wait in line for 45 minutes and an additional half hour for smothered green chile cheese fries.

Weeks after the protests about Ink! Coffee, we will be left with the tale of two Denvers, one who has a foothold in honoring the past and another who wants to keep imagining a great city. Not everyone who has moved to Denver wants to shape our town into something completely different, but Ink! Coffee’s insensitive campaign represents those who neither care or want to attempt to learn about the Denver that was.

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