The pandemic has been transformative for Erika Righter, who founded Hope Tank ten years ago this February. The quirky South Broadway shop specializes in tchotchkes like socks that say “NICE JEWISH GIRL” and prayer candles with Harriet Tubman’s face plastered on the side. Percentages of all purchases go to a litany of local charities.
Since the city shut down in the spring of 2020, Righter has been sounding the alarm that the “micro businesses” in her neck of the woods are in danger of closing. Rents were high before COVID struck, and the sudden loss of customers meant blocks were removed from the teetering Jenga towers beneath their operations.
This week, Righter told us her tower is finally collapsing. She just learned a new landlord has raised the rent beyond what she can shoulder. Her Broadway store will close for good on Feb. 1, 2022.
Righter was already heading in a new direction, and she said this change will help push her toward new goals.
She’s long maintained relationships with owners of other super-small businesses who struggled during the pandemic’s depths and see themselves as keepers of Denver’s culture. The entire cohort was in close touch as COVID changed the landscape around them. Early on, Righter began working to create opportunities and exposure for these enterprises, as well as for local artists who suddenly found themselves without work.
In April of 2020, she started a Crowdfunding campaign to pay muralists to decorate plywood that covered the windows of shuttered retail spots.
By the summer, she was working with other business owners to figure out how to successfully apply for emergency business grants offered by the city. She landed some help, but others could not break through and gave up trying.
Righter also won grant money that allowed her to buy a laser etcher and expand offerings to micro businesses around her, stuff like customized cups and wooden signs for events and retail displays.
This year, she raised money for “GO BIG FOR SMALL BIZ” banners that went to places like Welton Street Cafe, Whittier Cafe and MATTER book store.
While she is bummed to close her Broadway location, Righter said this change-up feels like it’s part of a larger shift of focus from nonprofits to local businesses.
“It was already moving in that direction, I just thought I was going to do it in this space,” she told us as she stood behind the register on Monday. “Its not about the space. It’s not. But it is kind of sad.”
Hope Tank first appeared on Santa Fe Drive in 2012, then moved to Broadway a year later. Righter raised her kids in that storefront, grew a network of close friends and fostered her dream into a business that was viable, until it wasn’t.
She said she’s shopping around for a new location, maybe in Five Points or in Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District. Wherever she lands, she said, Hope Tank will evolve into something that better reflects her new change in direction. She said she’ll lean more into campaigns like the “GO BIG” banners and custom products for local proprietors. She’s been hired to consult for some of her neighbors. She’s also launched a column for Westword, “Small Business Spotlight,” that aims to inform Denverites about retail treasures around the city.
“We’re not going away, we’re just shifting towards – frankly – deeper impact,” she said. “It actually feels like I’m going to be able to do a lot more good this way.”