Some cash-strapped business owners in and around Denver are turning to Craigslist for quick bailouts

Want to trade a Nintendo for a limo ride?
5 min. read
David Lawrence stands with one of his limousines at an Arvada stable. April 10, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

David Lawrence wants you to ride in his limos, so he's making some attractive offers on Craigslist.

Yes, he's dropped his rate by 40 percent -- it's now just $75 an hour to ride around like royalty -- but he'll also take all kinds of stuff as trade. Just a few of the 35 barter options listed include an "Original Nintendo," "Helicopter pilot lessons," "House Cleaning," "Sign language or Mandarin lessons" and "Any type of elephant stuff."

Amusing as these items may be, his post belies a serious issue. His limousines should be in the throes of their busiest season. But with proms, graduations and nights-out canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, his 20-year-old business is in dire straits.

Lawrence would usually expect to make as much as $2,200 a night on each of his three cars. Now, he's just hoping someone might like a scenic ride into the mountains, for cash or for trade, to help cover his mounting expenses.

"It's going to be really hard to stay afloat," Lawrence said. "It's going to put us into bankruptcy if this continues another month."

Lawrence is not the only person who's taken to Craigslist to find a quick bailout. All kinds of commerce is happening on the site as the economy tanks. James Sharpless, who lives at Inspiration Point in the city's northwest corner, said it's "a giant yard sale" right now.

James Sharpless stands with his 1968 Doge Dart convertable, which he's selling on Craigslist. April 9, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sharpless' livelihood relies on area farmers' markets, where he sells Italian cheese spreads that he's been making for 30 years.

"We don't even know what our income will look like this year," he said. "If they do open up the farmers' markets, I don't know how you can keep a social distance and keep safe."

So Sharpless, too, took to Craigslist. He's "liquidating quite a few things" as he works to cushion the loss. Chief among them is a yellow 1968 Doge Dart convertible, an item he's reluctant to let go. He had one just like it when he was in high school, and he bought this one a decade ago.

"I've enjoyed the Dart," he said. "It's a hot rod I could put my two daughters in, and my wife, and still do donuts."

But he needs to pay his mortgage and keep the business from going under. The $14,500 he's asking for the car could go a long way to tide him over until the economy starts looking normal again.

James Sharpless' Italian garlic and cheese sauce, which he usually sells at farmers' markets. April 9, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Harold Vera's listing on Craigslist.

Harold Vera of Arvada is selling a much-loved car, too. He's listed his 1970 Mercury Montego for $8,900. It's been in the family for 35 years; he rebuilt the muscle car with his son when he was still in high school.

He's sad to see it go, but Vera, a postal worker, needs to ensure his family has some cash on hand.

"Things are getting crazy," he said. "You gotta do what you gotta do."

The good news is buyers are biting. Sharpless said people who have the means know there are deals to be had as people list their assets on the site.

Dana Martin was planning to open a fleet of gourmet, locally sourced coffee trucks that she wanted to unleash upon Denver, but her partner backed out of the plan. So she listed her espresso machines on Craigslist at $3,900 apiece.

Martin, who's long sold machines like this online, said she'll use the money to buy her partner's share of the nascent business. She'll source new ones when she can get the ball rolling again.

"Its not dead, it's just sleeping," she said of the venture. She'll start over "when the virus is gone and people come out of their homes and start acting whatever normal means."

Dana Martin's listing on Craigslist.
Jason Houston's listing on Craigslist.

Jason Houston is also looking for a business-sized rescue. He and his wife have run a craft distillery, attached to a performance venue in Longmont, for about 8 years. The venue is closed, and they don't really want to lean into the spirits business. So they're selling the entire distilling operation on Craigslist for $200,000.

While they're excited about the possibility of starting over, Houston said opting to sell was "a massive emotional decision" that they didn't take lightly.

"We have the option of staying alive as a distillery, but that's only a small part of the picture for us. It's always been about building the community," he said. "We're not really motivated to just start cranking out a bunch of cheap booze and making hand sanitizer."

If Lawrence can't get any business, he says he'll have to rethink how he uses his ride.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "Maybe I'll be homeless, living in my limo."

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