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The Future of Retail is Coming to RiNo

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As Published in Denver Business Journal May 2019

There’s no doubt that retail is evolving as the convenience of online shopping continues to make it more difficult for brick-and-mortar stores to survive.

But a Washington, D.C., retail developer that makes long-term investments in communities is hoping to shift the conversation in one of Denver’s hottest neighborhoods. Since May 2018, Edens has spent nearly $67 million on 11 properties in Denver’s River North Art District, including Denver Central Market and, most recently, 2700 Larimer St., which is home to the Barcode Lounge.

In an interview with Denver Business Journal, Tom Kiler, who leads Edens’ Denver office, described how his firm hopes to develop an experience in that pocket of RiNo along Walnut Street that makes it part of the community’s fabric and, in return, lands successful retail tenants.

“We see brick-and-mortar as an opportunity to enrich the communities where we operate,” he said.

The developer has about 125 retail developments across the country, from Boston to Miami, to Dallas and Houston. One of its flagship projects is the Union Market District in Washington, D.C.

In RiNo, there is already a handful of existing leases that exist at 27th and Walnut streets — including the Noble Riot Wine Bar, which opened earlier this month — but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

At 2628 Walnut St., for instance, ed-tech company Pairin is coming up on the end of their lease and their ground floor space will likely be transformed into retail.

Some of the more exciting retail components are slated to come online later this year. Site design plans were recently submitted to the Landmark Preservation Commission for 2649 Walnut St., the former home of Denver Fine Cabinetry, and the future location of a “best-in-class” outdoor retailer, Kiler said. He declined to comment on what retailer is moving into the space, outside of saying a lease has been signed for about half the building.

The design plans were approved with some conditions related to the windows, which seem minor on paper, but could impact the retail experience, Kiler said.

“It’s an interesting challenge, but we’re confident that we’ll figure it out,” he said.

Nearby at 2600 Walnut St., another outdoor retailer has fully leased the 11,000-square-foot space, Kiler said, again declining to comment on the tenant. BusinessDen.com reported that Patagonia is moving its Lower Downtown store to that RiNo location. A message was left with Patagonia seeking comment.

Those two outdoor retailers join more than a dozen smaller, independent retailers in neighboring buildings, including Fice Gallery, a high-end sneaker shop geared toward shoe collectors, and Lustre Pearl, a hip, Austin, Texas-based bar that opted to do its second location in Denver.

Edens has about 140,000 square feet of retail space in RiNo and is “selectively looking to grow,” Kiler said.

“There are gaps in the teeth here, still,” he said. “You might walk out of Denver Central Market and come across a building without an activated ground floor and the person isn’t sure if they walk a bit further north if they’ll hit more stores. So, we need to continue to work to connect those opportunities.”

In order to be successful, Kiler said it’s up to Edens to help create an “enriching” experience that captures people’s attention, and not necessarily their wallets, at first.

“We focus on how do we become part of the community fabric and how do we capture people’s time,” he said. “We don’t think anymore about selling people stuff — we want to capture their time. If we can do that, a transaction will follow.”

It’s a similar strategy that stakeholders of the 16th Street Mall are trying to accomplish. Most people today use the mall as a transit corridor, as opposed to a place to simply linger. Officials are hoping a redesign that includes wider sidewalks and more trees, and moves the buses more to the middle of the road can make it a more enjoyable experience.

And officials in Cherry Creek North have acknowledged that those more “experiential” retail experiences are on display in the high-end shopping district. Men’s clothing store Bonobos, 105 Fillmore St., for instance, calls itself a “guideshop,” where shoppers come in, a clerk walks them through the entire assortment of options, they can try on clothes and then they walk out hands-free because their order has been shipped directly to their home.

“It’s certainly a trend in retail that we hope to take advantage of,” said Brian Phetteplace, director of economic development for Cherry Creek North.

RiNo - 27th & Larimer

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