“We do nothing plain.”

On Saturday I headed to the South Pearl shopping district (about 30 blocks south of Uptown Denver, and west of I-25) to check out 5 Green Boxes and Unity.

It was an easy journey but a long one (81 minutes each way by bus) through an assortment of characters. (If you just want to read about the stores, scroll down for the reviews.)

It was warm and sunny when I parked my truck at the Broomfield Park-and-Ride, so I went to sit on the benches behind the 4 black boys from Denver and the white girl. Having 4 black people together in Broomfield is still something of an event, though it’s becoming more and more common, which gladdens my heart.

I got a little more than I bargained for, though. These kids thought nothing of sitting there in public talking about the stuff you get in your pubic hair during sex. Or what you should do when a girl asks you to wait until she’s ready for sex. Or dumps you. All sprinkled with lots of racial epithets and profanity.

I didn’t say anything because I was the one who walked over to sit with them. Besides, their conversation was an education in ghetto talk, which is fun for a writer. I did wonder whether the verbal show was for the benefit of the girl sitting next to them, or whether they were trying to impress each other. She never said anything except “Bye, guys,” when her ride arrived.

Once they got on the 76, there was no one left to entertain me except the white woman sleeping in the shelter and another white woman shouting into a cell phone about the bus to Denver being late. When it finally did arrive, a drunk white guy motioned me on and then got off at the next stop, telling the driver he was trying to be cool and not beat up another man on the bus. The driver just muttered to himself, “Get out of my face.” One seat up from me, a beautiful young black man with expensive-looking clothes laughed about someone being drunk at 2 in the afternoon.

From then until I got off at South Pearl and Iowa, the only excitement was the man on the 12 asking me if we’d met somewhere. I was still processing all the action from the park-and-ride, so I gave him the once-over and said no.

1455 S. Pearl St., Denver
Bus directions: take the 12 from Market Street Station

5 Green Boxes, which has both a small store for accessories and some clothes and a large store selling items for the home, was at one end of the shopping area. Unity was at the other. It’s the kind of store that makes me feel middle-aged as soon as I walk in. Everything is either teenage-small and sheer or has that baby-doll look. I had to go into the room with the men’s clothes to recover, and then I forced myself to look for something on the women’s racks that looked like it would fit me. And I found things, of course. What’s lucky about reviewing clothing stores is that you can go and just look. You don’t have to actually sample everything, as I have done at restaurants and chocolatiers all over Denver.

I perked up when I saw the 2 Red Hens bags, made in Denver and sweatshop-free. Proceeds from their sale go to fight cervical cancer. The pictures on the website will fool you into thinking their bags are made in only one style, but Unity had several.

I was also very impressed by the two women bustling around the front room, who were preparing for a trunk show that night but still took time to answer all my questions, including my ever-hopeful inquiries about jeans with high waists. One said she’s been seeing of lot of those, which made me want to jump up and down and shout for joy. It’s a small store, so I didn’t.

I had to laugh when they told the other woman in the store, who was somewhat past middle age, that she could get a free Hanky-Panky if she bought $100 worth of merchandise. She didn’t jump up and down either, just smiled politely and bought a scarf.

5 Green Boxes
1596 S. Pearl St., Denver (Little Store)
1705 S. Pearl St. , Denver (Big Store)
Bus directions: take the 12 from Market Street Station

And then I was off to the other end of this compact district, to see the 5 Green Boxes accessories store. I walked in and was thrilled to see a reusable tote proclaiming, “I’m saving the planet. What are you doing?” and “Eco-Freak Reusable Multi-task Tote.” Having been an eco-freak for more than a decade, I was all set to buy it (just $14!) until I noticed it was made in China. And that ruined it for me.

(I just checked my Vitamin Cottage bag, which is also made in China. They say they “practice fair trade,” but still…)

I forgot all about that when I saw the hangers were made from paper, not plastic. Not to mention the fabulous socks and scarves, jewelry made in Boulder from found materials, and Maruca bags (handmade in Boulder and sold nationwide, even at the Smithsonian Museum shops in DC).

The other 5 Green Boxes store, one block away, which sells furniture and napkins and Christmas decorations, is no less delightful and stuffed just as full of things I wanted to buy, or at least take a picture of. There was the BBQ skillet my husband would love, the Epicurean cutting surfaces made from eco-friendly wood fiber, and the chair below.

The one thing I asked for, though, 5 Green Boxes didn’t have. I asked the woman behind the counter if she had black placemats, hoping that she did and that I could give her some money. She just laughed at me and said, “Just plaid. We do nothing plain.”