Looking to support small businesses on the westside? The West Denver Marketplaces’ directory has you covered

West Denver Marketplace is a website showcasing over 100 small local businesses from West Colfax to Florida Avenue and Sheridan to Santa Fe Drive.
7 min. read
All kinds of food for sale at the Far East Center’s second Mid-Autumn Festival celebration. Westwood, Sept. 10, 2022.

Small local businesses shape the neighborhoods they call home, and that sentiment is extremely true when it comes to shops in West Denver. The westside is Denver's most diverse area, and many of the businesses are culturally relevant and owned by people of color.

But West Denver is also an area that's faced historic disinvestment and currently faces high risks of displacement. With West Denver's rapid growth and change, comes higher rents for homes and businesses and less available space.

So, local leaders, stakeholders and business owners on the westside, from West Colfax to Florida Avenue and Sheridan to Santa Fe Drive, are coming together to bring more Denverites to the area. They plan to support their preservation efforts through a new (and growing) business directory and gift card program.

Kahlo's Restaurant on Morrison Road. Westwood, Sept. 21, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The West Denver Marketplaces business directory and gift card program launched this year and has over 100 participating businesses that include restaurants, salons, auto shops and grocery stores. And more are on the way.

All these businesses sit on the westside in the Athmar Park, Barnum West, Mar Lee, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park West Colfax and Westwood neighborhoods.

The program was launched by the West Denver Small Business Coalition, which is comprised of local nonprofit and government agencies such as the Business and Cultural District (BuCu) West Development Association, the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC), the West Colfax Business Improvement District, the Little Saigon District, Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center, the Santa Fe Business Improvement District, the Denver Streets Partnership, Mi Casa Resource Center, Councilmember Jamie Torres' office and the Denver Economic Development & Opportunity.

Renee Martinez-Stone, WDRC Director, said the idea for the gift card program and directory started in 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

Businesses in general suffered during the pandemic but Martinez-Stone said stakeholders on the westside knew that the businesses in the area had additional hurdles to jump because of their small operations and lack of access both with language and online services.

Star Kitchen on Federal Boulevard seats significantly fewer customers than they did before the pandemic. Nov. 10, 2020.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

But when these groups attempted to assist the businesses, they realized there was no directory to locate all of them and, again, being that they have small operations, a Google search wasn't sufficient.

"There were a lot of things preventing West Denver businesses from accessing the COVID relief funds," Martinez-Stone said. "West Denver businesses were not in any sort of directory. There were language barriers. There were only online applications...So WDRC joined with BUCU West and we applied for funding to start spending time to create the first database of businesses [to help] reach out to businesses to provide support services and things of that nature."

The West Denver Small Business Coalition was formed in June 2020. With the help of several grants, including a neighborhood activation grant, they began canvassing the area, asking business owners to fill out surveys to find out what assistance they may need. Partners identified more than 1,000 businesses in the area and eventually connected with over 600 of them. They received surveys from 217 businesses.

The surveys found 93 percent of the businesses were microbusinesses, meaning they employ one to nine people, and that 23percent of the businesses were multigenerational.

The ice cream counter at Bule Bule on Morrison Road. Sept. 16, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

About 77 percent of business owners identified as Latino and 57 percent said they preferred Spanish as their first language. Going further into the demographics, 45 percent of business owners said they were immigrants or refugees, 33 percent identified as women, 18 percent identified as white and 7 percent identified as Asian or Pacific Islander.

Most of the businesses, about 33 percent, had only been open for less than three years, while about 24 percent were open for more than 11 years. According to the survey, more than half, 53 percent, said their businesses were suffering during the pandemic lockdowns.

"The goal for that coalition was just to find out what their needs were and how we can support them," Martinez-Stone said. "We found that accessing loans was the top one. Marketing and some sort of digital presence was number two. So, essentially the West Denver Marketplaces now provides a digital presence for a lot of the businesses."

The Marketplaces website hosts a list of all the businesses they've partnered with separated by categories, including dining, shopping, services and entertainment. There's a Google map accompanying the list for easy locating. Each business submission includes a short profile, photos, contact information and their own websites, if they have them.

Truong An Gifts owner Mimi Luong walks under a dragon puppet held by members of the Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center perform during Lunar New Year festivities at the Far East Center. Feb. 5, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

It's a one-stop for Denverites curious about westside businesses.

"It's all about getting our names out there," said Mimi Luong, owner of Truong An Gifts in the Far East Center. "Our community is one of the bigger communities filled with mom and pop businesses. So, just getting more awareness and getting people to come to this district to try the restaurants and different things, that's what the initiative is for. People can go to the website and read about these places and want to support these businesses."

Another aspect of the directory is the gift card program. Currently, anyone can buy a gift card online and use it at any of the participating stores. The cards can hold any amount and they'll be shipped once purchased. It's similar to a Visa gift card, but again, it can only be used at participating stores. There's no expiration date and you can buy a card for yourself or anyone else.

Martinez-Stone said that portion of the idea came from wanting to support the businesses during the holidays. She and others would want to buy gift cards to give as gifts, but most businesses didn't have that option. The gift cards provide Denverites with another option to support the area.

So, how can you help? Check out the website and head to the westside! Some of the participating businesses include, Chaos Vintage and Thrift on West Colfax, Topeira Boxing Club on Alameda, One Stop Bike Shop on Morrison Road, Viet's Restaurant on South Federal, Tacos Selene on Santa Fe, Morrison Nutrition Center and Contreras Market also on Morrison, and Franks Bar-B-Que also on West Colfax.

Conchas fresh out of the oven at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Luong and Martinez-Stone said the program and website are just starting and they hope it expands to include all of the businesses in the area. Eventually the coalition will also like to have all the businesses sell the gift cards in house, making them more accessible.

Martinez-Stone said in the future, the coalition wants to help provide businesses with more advertising and graphic design options and maybe the website could include visit itineraries and food tour advice.

"We're creatures of habit and we go to the places we know and yet we do seek to support small businesses and have these mom and pop experiences. This project promotes that," Martinez-Stone said. "The businesses provide critical jobs and critical services that are really very important to residents...We see this as a way to support the businesses as well as to minimize involuntary displacement amidst the change that is happening in these neighborhoods."

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