Leevers Locavore Northside will open on 38th Avenue in Denver’s Highland neighborhood bright and early Thursday morning despite the possible snow.
“We planned that one perfectly,” the grocery store and kind-of food hall’s vice president of operations, Chris Franklin, joked on Wednesday.
Leevers Supermarkets operates 17 stores in the Front Range, including Save A Lot brands. One of those used to sit on the corner of Clay Street and 38th Avenue. That grocery store closed down in 2017, and Franklin said his company set out to replace it with something new, something that the neighborhood wanted more. They made their way around to community meetings, sent out surveys and asked for feedback. What they came up with was a new concept for Leevers, and it seems like people are generally excited about it.
Locavore’s core is still a grocery store (this one specializes in items produced in the region), but the store’s basic operation differs from others like it. Instead of producing or purchasing certain items you might expect to see — beef, grab-and-go sushi rolls and ready-made soup — Leevers Locavore relies on third-party partners to handle that stuff.
The sushi, for instance, is whipped up by One Two Three Sushi, whose staff is also available to make custom orders that customers can eat in the store. The same goes for meat. That’s supplied by River Bear American Meats, which operates a processing plant near the intersection of I-70 and Steele Street and opened its first brick-and-mortar shop here at Leevers Locavore.
The store also leans heavily on alcohol sales. There’s a cooler full of craft beverages and a bar where shoppers can grab something to sip as they shop. Tables and chairs surround the bar, including on a landing up a flight of stairs that once housed Save A Lot’s old offices.
Franklin said the company will closely watch how this location performs. It’s a “sandbox” to experiment in new territory, he said.
In a neighborhood filled with change, this supermarket’s arrival has not been super controversial.
Inside his auto shop across Clay Street, Chris Villegas was listening to the Rolling Stones when he said as much. Villegas was one of a generation of long-time Northside residents who grew up nearby but has since moved away. He said his dad got an offer on their home on Navajo Street that was too good to pass up, so they left. He’s still here for work every day.
Villegas said he’s excited Leevers Locavore is opening. It represents an option for lunch that’s “a lot closer.”
Andrea Salzberg managed to get some shopping done on Wednesday before the grand opening. She lives close by, and she also said she liked what she saw. Salzberg does not usually visit grocery stores. She works and has kids, and she prefers to save time by buying a lot of her groceries on Amazon. But not everything can be delivered, and she’s glad there’s a new option nearby.
“Sometimes it’s great to be able to go someplace where you’re able to see good fresh meat and good fresh fruit,” she said. “I can see myself actually coming in.”
She found bread from a local bakery that she seeks out during farmers market season. Her kids love the stuff, so it was a win.
Trupti Suthar, president of Sunnyside’s official neighborhood group, was one of those stakeholders that Leevers approached in the planning phase. She said a lot of her neighbors were excited, though they thought they were getting something else at first.
“They were like, ‘Hey, I hear it’s going to be a Trader Joes!’ Everybody was really excited and wanted a Trader Joe’s,” she said.
It is not a Trader Joe’s, but Suthar said the store is probably not far off the mark: “I’m excited to try it.”
She’s also happy for all those tables and chairs. It’s a place she expects her neighborhood group and knitting group to take over when they need somewhere to convene.
That, Leevers’ Franklin said, was an intentional feature. He hopes the store will become a “community hub.” It’s something the company has been successful doing in other stores, like a community room in the Montbello Save A Lot that hosts classes on healthy cooking.
But Suthar hesitated to say that everyone is equally stoked about the project. While a lot of people she knows are receptive to the store, most people in her network are relatively recent arrivals, and she was cautious not to speak for everyone.
“There could be people who used Save A Lot who may not be represented by me,” she said.
Colorado’s poet laureate Bobby LeFebre, who canonized the term “Northside” in his play about the changing neighborhoods, said he’s only skeptical about how that particular word is used.
“It’s cute if it is in an ode to the old, but intention is everything,” he said. If the store doesn’t prove to be inclusive to everyone, calling it “Leevers Locavore Northside” will merely be “an attempt to pacify the act of setting up shop in a gentrification ‘conflict zone.'”
He’s not looked closely at the store, so he’s waiting to find out what kind of neighbor they may be.
But, he added, there’s also not much of the old neighborhood left to exclude. It’s “past the tipping point,” he said. He’s contributed his say to this conversation with his play and said he’s otherwise burned out on the fight. He also said he’d swing by the grand opening on Thursday to check it out and see what the store has to offer.