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First COVID, now construction. Denver's 16th Street Mall remodel is final blow for some businesses

Storeowners say 16th Street Mall construction is hurting business
Storeowners say 16th Street Mall construction is hurting business 03:21

More than a year after Denver launched a $150 million remodel of the 16th Street Mall intended to revive downtown, some store owners say it's having the opposite effect.

They say the construction is killing business. It started last spring and was supposed to last 3 years but the city admits phase one is six months behind schedule.

"I can't tell you how many families say to me, 'I would not bring my family into Denver anymore and that breaks my heart,'" says Marissa Williams, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. 

Her dad opened the 16th Street Mall location, one of the first franchises, more than 30 years ago. While the store hasn't changed a lot, the mall has. 

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is one of three businesses left in Writer Square along with Colorado Artisan Center. But Artisan Center owner Gabriela Salazar says she too may close.

"We are at a 50% loss of business right now," she said. 

Salazar and Williams have stuck it out through the COVID shutdown, fentanyl epidemic, and homeless crisis, as crime grew and their customer base shrank.


"I feel like we have powered through this. We have sacrificed so much... our family," says Williams.  

This, Salazar says, is the last straw.

"All you have to do is look around to see that we are completely blocked. We're in a little island," Salazar said. 

A year and a half ago, crews ripped up the 16th Street Mall as part of a remodel.

As fences went up, Williams says, business plummeted.

"I think that people are losing faith coming down here. They don't want to try to find us anymore. It's too difficult," Williams said. 

While the city offered six months free rent for new tenants, existing businesses got a couple thousand dollars in mitigation grants.

"And they suggested we use that money to pay for banners to cover their fences, their mess," says Salazar. "This situation is simply not sustainable." 

The city has also provided up to $15,000 in additional support to some businesses and says it may provide another round of funding next year.  


Williams and Salazar say, while they are thankful any help, $15,000 covers about two months rent and they've endured 15 months of construction.

For now, Williams - who also owns a store in The Pavilions - has no plans of leaving.

"My husband and I live here and we will work open to close to make these stores work," Williams said. 

During the campaign, Johnston said 16th Street Mall would be his highest priority infrastructure project. But, despite repeated invitations to join CBS News Colorado when we met with business owners, his staff declined.

Williams hopes he will change his mind.

"I would love to have him come join me for some chocolate and just live this life for an hour," Williams said. 

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