Best Places for a Shopping Respite or Shopping Extravaganza in Denver
By Christine Loomis
Denver Local Expert
Denver is a thriving, evolving city and the same can be said of its stellar collection of stores and boutiques. From small and eclectic independent retailers such as 5 Green Boxes to the upscale, multi-block shopping district that is Cherry Creek North, Denver delivers a vibrant and intriguing experience with multiple options for shoppers of all kinds. For art collectors or art lover, there's the gallery-centric Art District on Santa Fe, along with two fabulous (and different) shops at the Denver Art Museum. Tattered Cover, one of Denver's most successful and beloved retailers, now has three locations, including a cozy outpost at the newly revitalized Denver Union Station. Speaking of Union Station, the historic aesthetic remains in tact and the trains continue to run, but a fabulous collection of retailers and restaurants now infuses the evocative structure with a distinctly 21st Century vibe. Historic and contemporary elements also combine at Larimer Square, an area that Butch Cassidy is said to have once visited and where some of the city's best independent boutiques now open for a more genteel clientele. And in the spirit of what's old is often new again, there's Twist and Shout, a record store where new vinyl recordings are being sold alongside those old collectibles and CDs from every genre--plus there's live music. Perhaps best of all, in between many Denver shops are independent restaurants opened by award-winning chefs where shoppers can rest and refuel before heading to the next dynamic shopping experience.
Located in the restored 1901 Denver Tramway building, REI Denver is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, from weekend warriors to avid sportsmen and women. The massive store set near the South Platte River at Confluence Park is one of the brand's best. Of course it includes all the climbing, hiking, camping, paddling and cycling gear one could want. It also has a massive 47-foot monolith on which to practice rock climbing, a 6,400-square-foot surface that's hand sculpted and offers 12 top-roped routes and two lead-climbing routes. A climb is free if you're an REI member. In addition to all of the clothing and gear available, the store also offers a variety of classes and demonstrations including climbing techniques, bike maintenance, stand-up paddleboarding and smartphone photography. If you can do it in the outdoors, you can buy it, try it or learn it at REI. (303-756-3100)
9 Larimer Square
Larimer Square is the city's No. 1 historic district and it was integral to the earliest residents of Denver, many of whom were on the rough-and-tumble side. Today, a more genteel clientele strolls along this historic block of Larimer Street to visit its 23 retail shops, 20 of which are independently owned. All of the stores here typically offer some Colorado-made products, including Cry Baby Ranch, Eve and Gusterman Silversmiths. There are shops carrying products for women, men and children, there are shops selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories for humans and dogs, antiques and home goods, to name a few. A great time to visit is during a festival or event. Le Jardin Secret, a French-inspired farmer's market, runs summer Saturdays; the Peachy Sidewalk Sale is in late July; there are spring and fall fashion shows and the Chalk Art Festival takes place in May. (303-534-2367)
8 Cherry Creek North Shopping District
The 16-block, 27-acre shopping district is set in a lovely, tree-filled section of Denver that feels a world apart and yet is within a few minutes of downtown. Cherry Creek North features nearly 400 businesses in total, and 73 percent of them are locally owned and operated. Improvements in recent years include enhanced landscaping, more trees, new lighting, better signage and improvements that support water and energy conservation. In other words, it would be hard to find a lovelier or more efficient place to shop! Cherry Creek North has stores devoted to fashion, gifts, artwork, home furnishings, jewelry, toys, costumes, spices, kitchen goods, fitness apparel, sporting equipment, groceries--it's all here and taking an afternoon to wander around and poke into the delectable assortment of stores, goods and services is a fine way to get to know Denver better. (303-394-2904)
7 Tattered Cover Book Store
From its humble beginnings in a tiny space back in the 1970s, Tattered Cover evolved into one of the largest independent bookstores in the nation. It has weathered a retail climate that has not been friendly to booksellers, but thanks to the indomitable spirt and savvy business sense of owner Joyce Meskis, Tattered Cover has not just survived it has thrived. Today it has three locations including an expansive space on Colfax in a former theater. There book lovers and others can browse, sip coffee, listen to authors read from their works and shop. The store has 24,000 square feet of retail space housing 150,000 book titles. There are also calendars, toys, games, puzzles, cards and many other potential gift items. But the Tattered Cover's best asset is arguably its staff, people who know and love books and who can offer genuinely helpful and insightful suggestions and advice. (303-322-7727)
6 Art District on Santa Fe
More than 70 establishments populate this very walkable area just south of downtown Denver. While the First Friday Art Walk is indisputably the biggest draw for visitors to Denver, the district's galleries, restaurants and retail shops are open all week. The greatest concentration of shops, galleries and restaurants is in an eight-block area between 4th and 12th along Santa Fe Drive. In addition to shopping, various classes are offered, space is available for private parties and events and there are two theaters and a museum, too. All of the galleries and shops in the Art District are independently owned and roughly 90 percent of the artwork and merchandise is made in Colorado. In terms of special occasions, Denver Arts Week is in November and a luminaries celebration is held during the holidays.
5 The Proper Pour
Mega liquor stores offer more bottles and selection, but they cannot match the personal attention and passion of The Proper Pour. Customers looking for an unusual wine or liquor can pick the brain of whoever is working and get knowledgeable information and suggestions--they're all self-proclaimed cocktail geeks who see their job as providing the proper ingredients, tools and education so customers can enjoy the same imbibing experience at home as they would out on the town. To that end, the store carries such products as wine produced by a small biodynamic farm in Western Colorado, unusual beers and specialty releases from excellent local small-batch distillers as well as tasty, perfected whiskey from well-known larger distillers across the country. "As long as they are staying true to their craft and making top-notch products," says the owner, "we will continue to support them in their efforts." ((720) 389-7905)
4 5 Green Boxes
This is the land of fun and unusual gifts and treats located in two main stores a block apart on Denver's trendy South Pearl Street. The larger store has everything from candles based on literary themes to hand-painted furniture. Shoppers will find one of the best collections of greeting cards around, along with delightful odds and ends they probably didn't know they needed until they stumbled upon them here. The smaller store has clothes, shoes, accessories and jewelry, and both stores carry goods from around the world. It's fun just to wander around the larger store with its cacophony of color, patterns and inventive displays. Prices here, the saying goes, range from $5 to $5,000, so surely everyone will find something. ((303) 777-2331)
3 Twist and Shout
When Twist and Shot opened in 1988 there were no MP3 players, iPods or smart phones. The store is in some ways a throwback to those days, yet very much current. It's a place where Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers all can shop for the music they love, old and new. The store carries every conceivable genre and format of music, and its true claim to fame may be what is arguably the largest selection of new and used vinyl in the country. Live performances are staged in the store each month, both local artists and national touring acts, and merchandise includes art films, music movies, toys, shirts and all kinds of other fun stuff. As if all that weren't enough, according to management, the store has "the most creative, unique, artsy, sexy employees on earth." Who wouldn't want to shop there? (303.722.1943)
2 Denver Art Museum Shops
The Denver Art Museum features two must-see shops. The North Building shop has a family orientation with creative products for all ages including activity kits, books, art supplies, puzzles, games and more. The shop in the Hamilton Building attracts art lovers with art-inspired clothing and accessories such as a men's tie with a Salvador Dali-inspired mustache print, one-of-a-kind jewelry and fused or blown glass pieces. Stock changes to reflect current exhibits, so there's always something new. No matter what is featured, whimsy and creativity abound. This is just the place to pick up a miniature version of one of the best-known sculptures in Denver, the famous giant blue bear at the Colorado Convention Center. Local goods also include uniquely artistic handbags made by Boulder-based Maruca Design and chocolates handcrafted in Denver. The Denver Art Museum stores are where creative expression and inspired shopping become one. ((720) 865-4488)
1 Denver Union Station
Denver's revitalized Union Station features 10 independent, Colorado-owned retail and restaurant outlets across 22,000 square feet of ground-floor space, which is complemented by 12,000 square feet of public common area and 40,000 square feet of outdoor plaza space. It's all in and around the magnificently renovated historic Denver Union Station--and the trains are still coming and going! Among the retail shops are outpost of three popular stores: Tattered Cover bookstore, 5 Green Boxes and Bloom. Eateries range from Pigtrain Coffee and Milkbox Ice Creamery to full-restaurant concepts from some of Denver's best-known and most successful chefs. Mercantile Dining & Provision is a little of both--a European-style restaurant and an "Old World" market. (303-534-6333, 800-872-7245)
About Christine Loomis
Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York, Colorado and California. Today she divides time between the Denver and San Francisco areas. Christine loves shoe shopping and fishing; walking anywhere; horseback riding (she was on the equestrian team at the University of Oregon); and discovering menus that include small-batch whiskeys, craft beer and lesser-known wines. She would go anywhere in an RV and believes summer is best when it includes a rafting trip.
Read more about Christine Loomis here.