By Andrew Kenney and Ashley Dean
A sign outside ink! Coffee in Five Points, a historically black neighborhood, declared that the chain from Aspen has been “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.”
Ru Johnson, a writer and creative consultant, spotted the sign and posted it to Twitter today, where it quickly drew outrage.
The shop is at 29th and Larimer in Five Points, the historically black neighborhood known as the “Harlem of the West.”
The sign was stolen soon afterward by a skateboarder, per Johnson. The coffee chain was lambasted for celebrating the economic change that has displaced people from neighborhoods around Denver. (Read Erica’s in-depth explanation.)
Hours later, ink! offered an apology on Facebook.
“Hmmm. We clearly drank too much of our own product and lost sight of what makes our community great. We sincerely apologize for our street sign. Our (bad) joke was never meant to offend our vibrant and diverse community. We should know better. We hope you will forgive us.”
The controversy spread quickly, and the River North Art District also offered commentary, calling it “divisive rhetoric” that was “very damaging to everything we are trying to achieve collaboratively with our artists, historic neighborhoods, and stakeholders.”
UPDATE: The ink! Coffee was vandalized overnight in response to the sign.
Someone wrote “white coffee” and “gentrify deez nuts” on the side of the building.
As of 11 a.m. Thursday, ink! hadn’t made any additional statements or responded to Denverite’s request for comment.
UPDATE: Around noon on Thursday, ink! Coffee Founder Keith Herbert released a statement on Facebook apologizing for the sign and saying he is “embarrassed to say that I did not fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification.”
“I want to sincerely apologize to those who understand firsthand the hardship and cultural consequences that gentrification has caused,” he wrote, “in the Five Points neighborhood, throughout the City and County of Denver and in communities throughout our state.”
Herbert added that the sign was part of a campaign designed by the company’s advertising firm, and that he interpreted it as a positive statement about the changing neighborhood. He also said he will educated himself and his colleagues about gentrification.
I have been following the comments on social media and listening to our customers, and I want you to know that I hear you. I have used the last 24 hours to listen to your perspectives, and to better educate myself on gentrification. I am embarrassed to say that I did not fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification, and I want to sincerely apologize to those who understand firsthand the hardship and cultural consequences that gentrification has caused in the Five Points neighborhood, throughout the City and County of Denver and in communities throughout our state.
When our advertising firm presented this campaign to us, I interpreted it as taking pride in being part of a dynamic, evolving community that is inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities. I recognize now that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize – absolutely and unequivocally. Over the coming weeks and months, I will continue to educate myself and my colleagues about this issue, and we will find ways to demonstrate the depths of our contrition by taking meaningful steps to support our local community and its residents.
Founder, ink! Coffee