CU grad grows Grassroots California from boardwalk stand to business

The owner of Grassroots California opened his new Denver hat shop Monday at 846 N. Santa Fe Drive
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Grassroots California sales associate Connor Cook snaps hats. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) santa fe arts district; retail; commercial; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty;

Grassroots California sales associate Connor Cook snaps hats. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

University of Colorado grad Ryan "Ruga" Connolly has made a living selling hats with Jerry Garcia's artwork, Jimi Hendrix's face and Monarch, the grizzly bear on the California state flag.

Connolly, the owner of Grassroots California, opened his new Denver storefront Monday at 846 N. Santa Fe Drive. Since 2006, he's grown his counter-culture hat shop from a stand on a boardwalk in California to a multi-national business based in Denver.

Grassroot California had to leave its location last year in LoDo after police raided the business for operating a social cannabis club in its break room. The hat shop fittingly called the club The Break Room.

Grassroots California sells most of its hats online but has a store in Chicago, a popup store in Barcelona, Spain, and a warehouse in Stapleton. The company's products are also available in more than 150 stores, according to its website.

Connolly declined to share information about sales or customers Monday at the grand opening. He said he has 23 employees.

Connolly made his first hat in 2006 to promote a film he was making to express himself. After a "homeless guy" spiked his camera and broke it, he realized he had little money to resume filming and that the promotional hat he made was selling out.

Connolly pivoted to selling hats on Venice Beach and eventually packed his company into a car and moved the business to Denver. Today, Grassroots California designs roughly a new hat every day and collaborates with dispensaries, artists and others.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at [email protected] or

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