Today marks exactly three weeks since Stanley Marketplace opened for business, and a community is already taking shape inside of it.
The market has been years in the works inside the former Stanley Aviation building — where they once manufactured ejection seats — on the northwest edge of Aurora, just steps from Stapleton. The original, ambitious plan was to open in the fall of 2016, but the various delays that come with such an enormous undertaking got in the way.
Less than a month in, though, they’re already drawing a small crowd for the 10 businesses open.
Here are some other numbers:
140,000: square feet of space inside the marketplace
54: businesses that will eventually fill the space
15: businesses that are brand new
7: acres in Stanley’s outdoor space
130: people who attended a morning bootcamp run by Endorphin on Saturday morning
Those 130 people fit comfortably inside the hangar at Stanley, lifting, hopping and stretching through an enormous circuit to the pulsing sounds of dance music.
When it was all over, they flowed out to Miette et Chocolat, the bakery and chocolatier directly next to the hangar, to Logan House Coffee Company and to Stanley Beer Hall, where they opened early to offer bootcampers $5 mimosas and Bloody Marys.
Only 20 percent of the eventual businesses are open, but things are already shaping up the way the three founding partners planned.
“We picked pieces from different markets locally and nationally that just make a lot of sense,” said Mark Shaker, one of the founders. “You study those markets and see: Where are there gaps in time? Where are there gaps when there’s no flow of people through there? And where are there opportunities to supplement that? We really wanted to create a mix that’s driving people here during the course of the day.”
The second floor at Stanley is mostly service businesses — like the dentist, photo studio and florist — or offices, so they’re filtering people in and out throughout the day. The fitness classes are drawing people in for the morning or evening, and those people filter into the restaurants.
“We’re trying to set ourselves up as a destination,” said Bryant Palmer, spokesman for Stanley. “You don’t really have to have a plan when you come up here. You can kind of make it up as you go along.”
In fact, “make it up as you go along” is sort of how Stanley Market came to be.
That and a lot of hard work, of course. But Shaker and his partners didn’t mean to start an enormous market. They only wanted to open a beer hall.
Before starting Stanley Marketplace, Shaker worked in West Africa, helping build hospitals and raising money and awareness for women’s obstetric health. When he moved back to Denver, he told his Stapleton neighbors, “it drives me crazy there’s no hangouts in Stapleton.”
The neighborhood is viewed as a suburban place for people with kids, he knew, but he didn’t think that should preclude having more urban offerings.
“It started as trying to create a local, independent place that families can come to, that friends can come to, that has a cool vibe,” he said.
They started looking for space for a beer hall and the city of Aurora caught wind of the plan. City officials showed them a few different spaces on East Colfax with about 5,000 square feet each, but the locations weren’t right. Shaker and his friends wanted to open a beer hall for Stapleton.
So Aurora showed them the Stanley Aviation building.
Their first thought was that it would never work. “It’d be the biggest beer garden in the history of mankind,” Shaker said.
But it snowballed. They realized it could be more than a beer hall. After a story in Stapleton’s local paper, the Front Porch, people started calling Shaker to ask for space, and he knew it could work.
That was three years ago. They’ve been under contract as of two years ago.
“We sort of stumbled into it,” Shaker said. “It’s basically our concept on steroids.”
“We had a healthy naïveté about what we were getting into,” he added. “We’ve been told numerous times that this project violates the top 10 rules of real estate development. … We would say that that’s an antiquated way of thinking.”
Among the supposed problems: Stanley doesn’t have easy access or an anchor business.
But access shouldn’t stay a big problem for long for a business in the “opportunity triangle” of Stapleton, Lowry and the University of Colorado Hospital campus. Instead of an anchor, Stanley will have 54 businesses, including outposts of the extremely popular Denver Biscuit Co. and Rosenberg’s Bagels.
And so far, so good.
“We’ve been really lucky. The neighborhoods around us have really embraced what we’re doing, and each time we open something new, they come out and check it out and see what’s going on,” Palmer said.
The resident business owners seem thrilled by this.
“We’ve been open now for a week, officially, a week and one day. It’s going great. A lot busier than we expected, actually,” said Gonzalo Jimenez, who co-owns Miette et Chocolat with David Lewis.
The duo have an impressive pedigree. Lewis worked as the pasty chef for the Brown Palace for five years and in Las Vegas hotels for 10 years. Jimenez worked for Hyde Hotels in New Orleans and New York, at the St. Julien in Boulder and as a chef for a large corporation, working in Argentina and Chile. Building elaborate chocolate sculptures, they have entered competitions together and now have a joke jar in their shop to collect a dollar whenever someone says something is “too pretty to eat.”
Stanley Marketplace represents a space for their creative freedom.
“We always worked for giant corporations, and as an executive pastry chef, you always get tired and stressed out about money that is not yours when it comes to budgeting and costs and all that stuff,” Jimenez said. “So we were on the phone two years ago, and I said, ‘If we’re gonna stress out about money, it’s gonna be ours, so why don’t we come up with something.’ ”
“That’s why we do this,” Lewis added. “We don’t work for hotels anymore because they dictate your creative freedom at some point. We’re only limited by our imagination at this point.”
Just across from where Lewis and Jimenez are peddling pastries, Danielle Van Ede is selling clothing at Sterre.
“Sterre is ‘star’ in Dutch,” she explains. “We are originally from the Netherlands, and it’s my daughter’s name.”
It’s also her first business after working for other people in retail for a long time.
“There’s been so much foot traffic from the Stapleton community,” she said. “When I opened, of course friends and family came out, but so many people from around here because they’ve been waiting for this. Whenever a business opens, immediately a flow of people come out.”
Relatively speaking, Van Ede is a Stanley veteran. Sterre opened in the beginning, three weeks ago. Logan House Coffee Roasters are newbies by contrast, having only just opened on Jan. 2.
The business is hardly in its infancy, though. Co-owners Brooks Gagstetter and Andre Janusz have been roasting and selling coffee beans for years out of RiNo.
“We never wanted to have a coffee shop,” Gagstetter said. “We just wanted to roast and do deliveries and set-up and whole bean, that was it. After a while, we realized there’s such a demand for our product that to get it out there we kind of needed to open up a shop. We bit the bullet, and this is our first attempt, and it’s going really well.”
They moved the whole operation into Stanley and set up a homey spot to make coffee, as well as serve beer, wine and liquor. But it took something special to get them there.
“We loved the project. We got introduced really early on, and when we were walking around this, it was still just an empty warehouse,” Gagstetter said. “We got sold on the vision, and we’ve adopted the vision. And knowing the other businesses that were going to be in here, we were like, ‘This is going to be perfect. We’re gonna be a direct plug-in, a great fit.’ “
Ideally, the next 44 businesses to come will be a great fit, too.
Shaker has put a lot of work into making sure they do. He and his staff did some “secret shopping” at the prospective businesses to learn about their attention to detail, customer service and other attributes. He knew they were bringing in businesses that were top in their field and had to keep that up.
“There’s a lot of that energy where people are so passionate about what they do that you can’t do a half-assed job,” he said.
He’s also been careful about placement, breaking the building down into “neighborhoods” and, in many cases, following the sun. Morning businesses like Rosenberg’s Bagels, Logan House Coffee and Denver Biscuit Co. are clumped together, as are the lunch and dinner places, and positioned so that their patios get the sun at the right times.
Palmer said they’re hoping to be at 80 percent capacity by March and have a full house in the spring, opening at least one business per week over the next few months.
And Shaker confirms that two new businesses are right on the verge. Endorphin is about 10 days from opening and Yellow Belly Chicken is aiming for Jan. 15. From Jan. 20-28, he said, there should be three retail openings.
Also on the horizon: a partnership with Off-Center, a branch of the Denver Center for Performing Arts. They’ll be producing a comedy show there that uses the whole space, leading the audience on a sort of adventure.
Stanley Marketplace is very good at keeping everyone in the know via social media, so if you want to keep tabs on openings, catch up with them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Their handle is @ohheystanley on all three platforms.