Larimer Square Is Trying to Lure Shoppers Away From Amazon With Unique Experiences

Booze, trap music, and a menu written in a language patrons must decode are all things you'll find at the retail district's new pop-ups.

Like so many of history’s brilliant thinkers, Josh Sampson has a difficult time explaining the genesis of his genius. “I just wake up with these things,” says the owner of Good Baby Management, a Denver real estate and brand development company that counts the Big Wonderful, a pop-up beer garden and festival, among its concepts. One of his latest thunderbolts: Garage Sale, a Larimer Square vintage clothing and vinyl shop that also serves cocktails and tacos. “No one has done it here,” Sampson says, adding that LoDo’s Dairy Block is “mainly a food hall.” Hair-splitting aside, Garage Sale’s conceit is distinctive—though uniqueness itself is becoming commonplace on Larimer as the district looks to novel ideas to reverse its pandemic plunge.

After being saved from demolition in the 1960s by preservationist Dana Crawford, Larimer Square has become one of the most sought-after shopping locations in the city. COVID-19 and its social-distancing requirements, however, hurt brick-and-mortar retail across the country, including in Denver. Sales here dropped 7.9 percent from July 2019 to July 2020, but restaurants (down 43.2 percent) and clothing stores (26.4 percent), Larimer Square’s lifeblood, were wounded more than other sectors. Grace Buttorff, owner of the Hailee Grace boutique on Larimer, says sales plummeted 75 percent in April. Urban Villages, the district’s property manager, restructured leases, according to Kyle Mason, director of property management. But by October, eight of Larimer’s tenants had left the square (only two departed due to the coronavirus, according to Urban Villages). Meanwhile, nonstore retail in Denver—mostly e-commerce—more than doubled over the same time period.

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