Last year, Colfax Avenue’s Business Improvement District began plans for an event called Independents Day: a 4th of July celebration of Colfax’s many local, independently owned businesses.
The group envisioned it as a way to encourage community support for those businesses through special and promotions, while also creating a greater sense of pride in the Colfax community. Heading into 2020, the district planned the first inaugural Independents Day for July of this year.
“2020 kind of had some other plans,” said Michelle Valeri, communications and programs director at Colfax BID.
When COVID-19 hit, Denver businesses were forced to shut down. Now, months later, businesses are still navigating their reopening strategies.
“It’s really opened a whole new front,” said Frank Locantore, Colfax BID’s executive director. “There are real survival issues going on.”
He said that the district has helped connect Colfax businesses with various relief programs and grants and to apply for expanded outdoor seating areas. But not all of the businesses had the capacity to expand their patios. And businesses, including the Nob Hill Inn, have been struggling to reopen at all.
The folks at Colfax BID wondered how they could responsibly stage an Independents Day event to the scale that they had initially planned. They put off planning the event for months as the pandemic progressed.
“Then we were like, ‘You know what, it’s kind of more important to do this now,'” Valeri said. “So we decided we just need to get creative and see if we could do something to help the businesses out.”
The first ever Colfax Independents Day will be stretched into a three-day event to reduce traffic and to promote safety during the pandemic. From Sept 18-20, visitors to Colfax can participate in a socially-distant scavenger hunt and get deals at various participating businesses, like Nob Hill Inn, Pete’s Kitchen, the SieFilm Center and brand new businesses like Lucky Noodle and Bruz Off Fax.
“We wanted to amplify the businesses and give them a little boost and really put that community spirit that Colfax has on display,” Valeri said. She hopes the event will remind people that the businesses are ready to welcome them back in a safe way, and that people might even discover a new spot.
“The businesses have just shown so much resiliency and strength throughout this whole crazy year,” Valeri said. “The street just has an energy, and even when it was awfully quiet out there, you could kind of still feel it. You knew that the people of Colfax were still there, and the businesses were doing everything they could to still be there and make it through the storm.”
Ryan Evans, the co-founder of Bruz Beers, recently opened a tasting room on Colfax called Bruz Off Fax, one of the event’s participating businesses.
“Colfax is notorious for being resilient and being able to get through stuff like this consistently,” Evans said.
Bruz became an example of that resilience this year: The grand opening was February 8, about a month before the city shut down. Its initial business model was dependent on their ability to pack a small tasting room. Now, that was no longer possible.
“You dig deep and pull hard and try to figure out exactly what you’re going to do to make it through the next chapter,” Evans said. They got into canning, which Evans said Bruz had never done before, and started selling to-go beer packages.
“And it’s been a success,” Evans said. “The neighbors loved it and they came by and supported it. And people got to know us that way.”
Independents Day will also tie into the launch of Colfax’s latest power box art series. This year’s theme is “Colfax Strong.” Visitors to Colfax can participate in a scavenger hunt of different public art pieces on Colfax, and double their points by stopping at local businesses.
Locantore said each box was painted by a local artist and reflects that artist’s take on the theme.
“We want everyone to be able to see themselves in the art that they pass along Colfax,” Valeri said. “Colfax has always been a place where everyone is welcome. You’ll find every different type of person on Colfax. So why wouldn’t the art that we put out on the street reflect those people as well?”
Marissa Gomez-Wall is one of the contributing artists. She said when she thinks of Colfax, she thinks of people. She wanted her piece to reflect that.
“It’s not really a big secret that there’s a lot of interesting people on Colfax,” Gomez-Wall said. “I automatically just knew I wanted to do something colorful, something bright like all the different people I see.”
Similarly, artist Tess Swickard based her own power box design on people she’s connected with on Colfax. She said she wanted to reflect the diversity of the people on the street, so that the 15 figures painted on her box represent people of all different gender identities, backgrounds and races.
“Colfax is one of the most diverse streets I’ve ever seen in our state,” Swickard said. “And I think that’s the strength in it, right there. It’s all of the differences.”
Independents Day will take place this weekend, September 18-20. More info here.