When you walk into Melody Market, located at the center square of Five Points, you’re greeted by the fresh sounds of “the classics.”
Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Blue Moon” mixed with a bit of Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. Soft tunes that add to the laidback vibe of the convenience store, which is decked out in cool red paint and images of Black leaders, such as Maya Angelou and Louis Armstrong.
There’s also tons of dry- and cold-food options, beverage coolers, beauty products and fresh produce.
Melody Market is a small grocer now open seven days a week that’s been in the making for two years. Owner LaSheita Sayer is breathing a deep sigh of relief and welcoming all Denverites to come grab some quick essentials.
“I’m bummed that it took us as long as it did to open… but it’s a beautiful feeling to reach the highlight of actually being able to open,” Sayer said. “A lot of new people are moving into the neighborhood but what wasn’t being added was services like a food market. That’s the need we’re serving. We’re nine weeks in and we have over 1,400 items in the market… 1,400 different items.”
Sayer said so far, the neighborhood has been receptive to the store, which is next door to Coffee at the Point at Five Points’ quintuple intersection.
That portion of Five Points isn’t necessarily a food desert. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an area is considered a food desert when at least 500 people, or 33% of the area population, live more than one mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store. There’s a Safeway off North Washington Street and a Target on the 16th Street Mall.
But heading to either of those stores isn’t a quick trip, and they don’t provide the neighborhood feel Sayer is looking to bring with Melody Market.
Whatever a shopper needs, Melody Market may have it. But if not, Sayer said she’ll work on getting it. Whether that’s capers or a different flavor of Reese’s chocolate, Sayer said she wants to serve everyone in the neighborhood and make Melody Market the go-to spot for convenience.
“How the neighborhood currently exists doesn’t make it appealing for another big-box store to come in but that leaves this need and opportunity for small stores like Melody Market,” Sayer said. “It’s also fun to be able to walk into a store where after a while you recognize people. Not only do we provide food but we provide a familiar face and friendly people. We can be flexible and accommodating for what the neighborhood shoppers need…This should be a reflection of the neighborhood’s pantry.”
Sayer said when the store opened, she’d stop people in the street to ask what their favorite cereal was or favorite brand of canned tomatoes. Sayer is also launching a produce-ordering service that allows customers to order fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs through an online portal, which they can pick up on Thursdays.
Opening the store wasn’t nearly as convenient. Sayer is a local entrepreneur who operates a public relations firm, the Zozo Group. She’s also vice president of the Five Points Business Improvement District.
Sayer said between the food and construction permits and the back and forth between various city agencies, opening up the small business was difficult. Any project brings unexpected costs, but Sayer said relocating outlets and sinks or having to create new design drawings for the city ended up costing more than $20,000.
“As a business person, I understand there’s barriers to entry, but even for me it was hard,” Sayer said. “I learned a lot of lessons. Businesses are subjected to an enormous amount of permitting and construction design reviews with the city. It’s a whole different language. I felt like my little store was under the same amount of scrutiny as a developer building 100 units of apartments. I said, wow, this is a little store, and we’re going through this enormous effort to satisfy the city. I’d love to see a safe environment for us to build that doesn’t cost that entrepreneur, that dreamer so much time and so much money.”
Sayer said she’d like to help future entrepreneurs figure out how to navigate the system. But for now, she’s focused on the market.
Why the name Melody Market? Sayer said it’s a nod to Five Points’ musical and jazz history.
“I didn’t want to say Jazz Market,” Sayer said. “I’d gone to a concert, and we were talking about melodies and how they are made up of what you hear depending on the environment. So we went with Melody Market, which could mean a variety of things to a variety of people.”
Besides the convenience, for some, the market represents a win for Black business owners. Sayer said some people believe she’s running the first Black-owned small grocery store in Denver.
David Vinson doesn’t know if there was ever a Black-owned grocery in Five Points or in Denver. He grew up in Park Hill, lived in New York for a bit, then moved back to Denver via Five Points. He’s worked at Melody Market for about a week but has known Sayer since the two used to swing dance back in the day.
For Vinson, it doesn’t matter if Sayer is the first, just that she’s there for the neighborhood.
“People enjoy the feel of this, you know, having a neighborhood store,” Vinson said. “What’s really cool is being a native and knowing about the gentrification that’s happened here, I’m glad this store is owned by a Black woman. It’s more than a 7-Eleven. It isn’t a convenience store. It’s a convenient store.”