LaSheita Sayer has a vision for the old Crossroads Theater space in the heart of Five Points. She’s been working on a concept she calls Melody Market: a convenience store that fully embraces the neighborhood’s historic legacy.
“I want to start with what it’s not,” she said. “It’s not a Black convenience store. It is a convenience store that celebrates Black history.”
Sayer is a serial entrepreneur who currently uses the space at Washington Street and 26th Avenue for her PR firm, the Zozo Group. She’s been raising money for Melody, and she hopes to open up shop early next year. It will offer snacks, drinks and fresh lunch options. She plans to build relationships with local suppliers to stock craft beer, salads and other products made nearby. Sayer promises she will not sell cigarettes or lottery tickets.
The history part will be delivered in the form of photographs pasted to Melody’s walls and the music piped through its sound system. In a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified, often accompanied by vocal outcries from locals, Sayer hopes to show how new businesses can responsibly recognize the people who made Five Points a cultural hub in the city.
Sayer has lived in Denver for about 15 years. One of her first gigs in town was working with the African-American Leadership Institute, a nonprofit formed in 1990 to grow leadership roles in the city’s Black communities. She remembers watching as real estate prices in the neighborhood began to rise. Sayer said she and her colleagues were “silently hoping” Black business owners would remain a staple on Welton Street.
It’s not that she wants anyone excluded from working in Five Points. Sayer just hopes that the neighborhood’s history persists in people’s minds as things change. Gentrification involves erasure.
While the city has attempted to address displacement in its various area plans, Sayer said there’s only so much officials can do to preserve the character of a place like Welton Street. Business and property owners’ discretion will always make a difference.
She wants to make sure her shop recognizes the neighborhood around it. She also hopes it will inspire future business owners to follow suit.
“I just would hope that sprit is contagious enough, that they can see their business will do well if they’re able to observe some of that,” she said. “Open whatever it is that you want to open, but it would be great if you could help keep this cultural story alive.”
Sayer said she’s working to strike a balance between “unapologetically” telling stories of Black residents and artists without “pounding” it over people’s heads. She calls it “a casual sort of remembrance.”
It’s an exercise in teaching newcomers about the place while signaling to residents – or former residents – that they belong.
“It provides support to the young people’s self esteem, about who they are and where they come from. Being able to see pictures of other people of color, that can help to remind you that you’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of great people,” she said. “We can be a part of helping to keep those stories alive.”
Sayer’s neighbors are happy there’s something new on the way.
In an effort to test the market, Sayer launched a GoFundMe for her budding business. While she’s got several funding streams, she saw this as an opportunity to make sure the community supported her project. So far, she’s raised about $2,500 from 20 people. Sayer said that’s the rubber stamp she was hoping to see.
Narkita Gold doesn’t live near Welton Street, but she does yoga down the street and spends a lot of time near Five Points’ quintuple intersection. She is glad to hear there will be a new Black-owned business coming to the neighborhood.
“I think it’s really important for there to be a presence here, to know the history,” she said. “It’s important to have folks moving back into the space that was originally for the Black community.”
But, in a more practical sense, she said it’s “excellent” that there will be more snacks and drinks available. More businesses, more services, just make her experience along the corridor better.
Megan Amendola, who lives nearby and was waiting for a slice at Famous Original J’s Pizza, said she’s interested in a local market. She is really hoping Sayer has groceries, that it will be a place she can run to grab supplies for a quick dinner for her family.
“A convenience store, that’s helpful,” she said. “But, snacks and stuff – I’d rather get fresh groceries.”
There is a Safeway just up Washington Street, but she said it has kind of a bad reputation. She hasn’t visited the place since the pandemic began, and has opted to drive and shop across town instead.
Another grocery store is planned not too far away, in a large development coming to Cole. But huge projects like this have threatened small businesses in the past.
Fathima Dickerson, owner of the Welton Street Cafe, said she remembers when the Five Points Market, another convenience store, folded recently. In 2019, owner John Vu told 9News that big commercial and housing projects were to blame for huge increases in his rent. He could not keep up.
Dickerson, who’s cafe has persisted in the neighborhood for decades, said she’s glad Sayer is poised to replace that service.
“I would love to have a market,” she said. “Sometimes, when I’m here and we’re busy, I’m like: I need something for my spirits! Where is the candy?”
But Dickerson is also looking forward to more than a sugar rush. The more small businesses that survive here, she believes, the better chance they will all have to last.
“I don’t know my neighbors. There was one point when I would walk down the street, I just knew everybody. And I’m hopeful that we’ll get there. It’s going to take some years,” she said. “We need neighbors. I need Spangalang [Brewery]. I need Coffee at the Point. We need that U.S. Bank. When you have businesses, it creates the neighborhood. We’re in it together.”