Harriet Nelson, who starred with her husband Ozzie and her sons David and Rick in the 1950s TV show “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” once explained why she always stayed at Holiday Inns.
“They’re all exactly alike,” she said.
Sixty years later, John Dicker expressed the same sentiment in his book, “The United States of Wal-Mart.”
“We’re all Wal-Mart’s bitches,” he wrote.
Americans love predictability, reliability, affordability and availability. That’s why upscale “lifestyle centers” like the Promenade Shops at Briargate or First & Main Town Center on Powers Boulevard feature exclusively national retailers and chain restaurants. They know what their customers want.
We may celebrate diversity, but we seek homogeneity — at least in the prosperous suburbs that border the city to the east, northeast and northwest. But what about the “cool crescent” of the Pikes Peak region, the urban arc that extends from south downtown to the western border of Manitou Springs? Will it remain as it is, with hundreds of locally owned bars, restaurants, retailers and art galleries? Will the long-anticipated rebirth of southwest downtown benefit locally owned businesses? Or will prosperity create a kind of urbanized suburbia, a downtown like all the other cool downtowns?
Consider SouthSide Johnny’s. Owner Johnny Nolan, who started in the restaurant business as a server/bartender at the Ritz Grill, opened SouthSide Johnny’s on Tejon in 2003. He wasn’t the first locally owned establishment to open in the long-dormant area; that honor belongs to Alexius Weston, who opened Shuga’s on South Cascade a year earlier.
Both entrepreneurs benefited from cheap rents, landlords eager to ease up vacant space, and strong networks of friends, family and business connections to help out. Both understood their potential markets, worked hard and achieved deserved success.
A couple years ago, Nolan decided to downshift. Anticipating a monumental rent increase when his lease on the SouthSide Johnny’s space expired, he acquired the derelict fire station (and former barbecue restaurant) at 817 W. Colorado Ave. and spent most of the next two years turning it into a new bar/restaurant, the N3 Taphouse. It’s smaller than SouthSide Johnny’s, but Nolan owns the building — so no worries about rent increases.
A budding Denver-owned chain, The Atomic Cowboy, will replace SouthSide Johnny’s. The Denver Biscuit Company and Fat Sully’s Pizza will co-occupy the space, as they do in Atomic Cowboy’s three Denver locations.
“We’ve been looking down there for almost two years,” Cowboy’s owner Drew Shader told the Denver Post. “We love the area, love the demographics. We have so many customers and regulars that come from the Springs. I just think it’s a really underrated place.”
A few blocks north on Tejon Street, in the middle of downtown, Longmont-based Oskar Blues is redeveloping the space Old Chicago had occupied since 1982. It’ll feature more than 40 rotating craft taps, including Oskar Blues, and an eclectic menu. The company estimates that the renovation will cost about $1.2 million.
Oskar Blues, one of the largest craft brewers in Colorado, has a significant national presence with satellite breweries in Brevard, N.C., and Austin, Texas.
Back in the 1980s, a popular bumper sticker read “Don’t Californicate Colorado,” protesting the perceived invasion of our fair state by California developers seeking cheap real estate, lax regulations and a servile workforce. Are we now seeing the “Denverization” of downtown as well-capitalized sophisticates from the state capital run roughshod over the local yokels?
Not yet. SouthSide Johnny’s and Old Chicago may have exited downtown, but Coquette’s Bistro and Bakery is expanding to a new location. Brother Luck has taken Coquette’s old space on North Tejon, and local joints 503W and Cerberus are igniting the near Westside, along with N3 Taphouse.
But what will happen in southwest downtown? Existing buildings will likely be torn down, not repurposed by boldly broke entrepreneurs like Weston and Nolan. New buildings will require financially powerful tenants/owners, and that will advantage folks who have been successful in other markets. If southwest becomes a sleek new urban enclave, that could accelerate the closure of the Drake Power Plant and the repurposing of the old power station.
I can see it now: Those towering smokestacks? Climbing walls. That cavernous interior? The Colorado Springs Museum of Contemporary Art. The industrial area to the south? Lots of cool, locally owned businesses and a new wave of impecunious entrepreneurs.
Bring it on! n CSBJ