City of Denver crews covered up graffiti on the front of the ink! Coffee shop in Five Points as anti-gentrification protesters looked on Friday afternoon. The red-brown paint quickly obscured black letters reading “white coffee.” as a worker rolled it onto the storefront under the watch of a Denver police officer.
For the protesters, ink’s most recent ad campaign — a sandwich board sign reading “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” that set off a social media firestorm Wednesday after being spotted outside the business and may have motivated the building’s vandalism that night— will not be so easily erased.
“There is nothing funny about what these folks did,” Five Points resident Musa Bailey said of the sign ink later called a bad joke in an apology shared on social media. “If you don’t understand the weight of that word in this neighborhood, we don’t want you down here.”
— Joe Rubino (@RubinoJC) November 24, 2017
Bailey was among 20 or so people who gathered across the street from the business Friday to demonstrate the neighborhood has not accepted the coffee shop’s apologies. It followed a similar gathering of 15 or 20 people outside the business on Thanksgiving, Bailey said.
The biggest protest is yet to come. More than 550 people have signed up on Facebook to attend a “We don’t drink ink” protest and boycott event outside the store from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
“Gentrification has hit the Five Points, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, and Montbello neighborhoods hard and the City of Denver has ignored the needs of the community,” organizer Tay Anderson wrote on the event page. “Let’s stand together on Saturday afternoon in unity with one another, and let ink! Coffee and the City of Denver know that we will not remain complicit. That we will continue to stand up to gentrification in our city.”
The shop, which is also a roastery for the 16-location, Aspen-based coffee chain, has been closed since the controversial sign went viral on social media. A printed note that hung on its front door (which itself has been defaced with a sticker reading (expletive) Donald Trump”) read “Ink! Coffee will be closed for the Holiday weekend. Enjoy Thanksgiving with family and friends. We will see you on Monday.”
Bailey said protesters will be waiting to greet the staff when the shop opens at 6 a.m. Monday, too.
It’s no secret that Five Points, particularly the part of the neighborhood designated the River North Arts District where ink is located, is undergoing changes amid an influx of people (38 percent population growth in RiNo since 2010) and new construction (1,866 new housing units there since 2010). Many feel the growth is pushing longtime residents out of the historically black neighborhood as people struggle to keep up with rising housing costs.
Bailey, a third-generation resident of Denver’s east side, says he has felt the effects of gentrification directly. Cold Crush, the nightclub and restaurant he co-owned at 2700 Larimer St., closed Nov. 1 after its landlord did not renew its lease. The property owner, Poppyseed, LLC, never publicly said why it did not renew the club’s lease. Bailey said Cold Crush will reopen soon in another location.
“That is the pressure of gentrification: When you have people on the outskirts that say, ‘I can pay more for that,’” Bailey said.
He feels ink’s sign is the equivalent of the coffee shop’s management thumbing their noses at the community.
Calls and emails to ink requesting comment on the controversy were not returned for a third day Friday. No one answered the door at Five Points-based Cultivator Advertising & Design, the ad firm the created the sandwich board sign.
The city of Denver operates a free graffiti abatement program. A property owned has to fill out a request and an authorization form on the city’s website before crews will visit, city officials say.
In addition to the “white coffee.” tag, a double-pane window at ink was broken overnight Wednesday. Two fresh tags, including one reading “I grew here” appeared to have been left overnight Thursday into Friday. The controversy-stirring sign itself is believed to have been stolen.
Denver police spokesman John White said that a report has been filed with the department about the vandalism.
“I think we’re just working to coordinate with the owners of the establishment there to determine the best way to move forward,” he said.
“It’s a shame,” Gregory Diggs, with the group Northeast Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice, said of the spray paint and broken glass. “We want to have a voice but we don’t want to be defacing people’s property.”
Diggs was part of the protest group Friday. He said gentrification is nothing new in the Mile High City. It’s been going on for decades. The consternation over the ink sign demonstrates to him that there is a lot of work to do in Denver when it comes to managing growth in a way that preserves space for the people who made the city’s neighborhoods what they are today. He said compelling developers to keep more housing units affordable in their projects would be a good start.
“Unfortunately, improvements in our neighborhoods sometimes come at the expense of people of color,” Diggs said. “The irony is one of the reasons Five Points is here is black people couldn’t live in other places. We’ve got to find a way to have the improvements while protecting the history and the people.”