Sometimes 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) vied 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 tables 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?