16th-street-mall-sign-denver-june-20091Sometimes it’s necessary to write not about what is but what could be. That’s the subject of my post today: the 16th Street Mall’s inadequacies and how they might be amended.

I was standing outside Only in Colorado, taking some notes, when a man with a thick accent (Italian, perhaps) approached me. At first I didn’t get what he wanted, but he pulled at the sleeve of his coat and said “shirts,” and I understood he needed to find a men’s clothing store. I was stumped. I thought, I don’t know much about Denver after all. Then I looked in my downtown Denver directory and found two stores for men, Homer Reed on Tremont and Players on Wazee. They’re at opposite ends of the mall.

I suppose I could have sent him to T. J. Maxx or Ross Dress for Less—I think both those stores have men’s departments. But instead I sent him to the Pavilions.

Once department stores (like Cottrell’s) cottrells-and-only-in-colorado-16th-street-mall-denver-june-20091vied for customers on 16th Street, before it became an outdoor mall* in the late 1970s. For upscale shopping these days, you have to go to Cherry Creek. And there are a few shops in Larimer Square in lower downtown Denver. Almost everything else is in a suburban mall.

In May I explored upper downtown, which reaches northwest to Welton, and in June and July I’ll be continuing northwest through downtown. The two blocks from Welton to California and Stout reach the apogee of chainification. Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Arby’s, Einstein Brothers Bagels. Then Walgreen’s, a 7-Eleven, some banks, a Starbucks every two blocks.

The center strip on the 16th Street Mall, which is dotted with benches and chess tables16th-street-mall-chess-denver-june-2009 and hot dog and shave ice carts, is a nice place to rest and watch the flow. But the wide sidewalks on either side of this two-block strip don’t lead past interesting shops.

People in Denver love to blame the poor shopping downtown on Cherry Creek Mall and the surrounding boutiques in Cherry Creek North, but let’s face it, department stores have been fading away for years. They were some of the first chain stores, and my personal opinion is that most chains will have to shrink to survive, both the number of stores and their size, or break themselves into regional shopping companies. If we want good shopping downtown, we’ll have to get smaller stores, which will require innovation and dedication from the citizens and government of Denver.

Denver Infill wants a grocery store downtown, which would certainly be convenient. (Right now Cook’s Fresh Market and Vitamin Cottage are the only options, and the latter isn’t really in downtown.) I prefer Lisa Rogers’s idea of greenhouses connected to markets, a more interesting concept than a Safeway or King Soopers, but unlikely to be developed as soon.

But what if Denver produced a hybrid? A combination of a big grocery store that contracted out its produce section to Rogers and its supplement section to Vitamin Cottage and its meat and seafood section to Whole Foods (hey, I can dream). If it were housed in one of the old buildings on the mall, which are several stories tall, it might need extra space for lots of escalators and elevators. The lack of parking in the area would be addressed by providing superior delivery services.

What do you think?

Leave A Comment

  1. BernardL June 9, 2009 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Department stores spelled the end for the small Mom & Pop stores in the old days. I guess the Malls will eat the Department stores now in a form of progression. I thought contracting out sections was what places like Walmart and Costco are already doing. If you mean with individual ownership, don’t the Farmer’s Markets do that now?

  2. Denveater June 9, 2009 at 7:37 am - Reply

    There’s always the possibility—a long way off, but real—that downtown Denver could one day have an actual public market, a la Pike Place in Seattle or Philly’s Reading Terminal. Now that would be wonderful. I actually know someone on the committee if you wanted to talk to him about development plans…

    Denveater’s last blog post..Google Search Laffy Time: "pita chips & canker sores"

  3. Beth Partin June 9, 2009 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Denveater, I think I’ve read about that on Denver Infill. Do you know where they’re thinking of siting the market?

    Bernard, yeah, it’s been going on a while now. Maybe someday we’ll up at Mom and Pop again because they’ll be the only ones left. Right now, though, I doubt they could afford the rent.

    And I think big chains do some contracting out–generally not to local vendors, though. The local vendors are usually not big enough.

    Beth Partin’s last blog post..Lemongrass and T-Shirts in Downtown Denver

  4. Tracie June 9, 2009 at 8:49 am - Reply

    I remember riding the bus downtown to meet my mom to do afternoon shopping on the 16th Street mall. We would go to department stores and small Mom & Pop stores… Those were great times! I wish that Denver could think outside of the box and try something to bring life back to the center of our city!

    Tracie’s last blog post..Is there a fool in the room?

  5. Beth Partin June 9, 2009 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Tracie, I think it helps to get off the mall, go to 15th or 14th Streets–there’s a little more variety there.

    Beth Partin’s last blog post..Downtown Denver Arts Festival: Beauty and Oddities and Then Some

  6. Mary June 9, 2009 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    Great discussion. I’ve always sort of writen off that area and never really thought about how it could be more appealing. It would be so exciting to see it turn into a place to recommend to visitors.

    Mary’s last blog post..At least the shoe is as good as new