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Popup Denver pilot participant closes its doors on 16th Street Mall

Downtown Denver Partnership to launch next round Friday.
Tea with Tae Cafe in downtown Denver
Posted at 7:24 PM, Feb 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-02 23:19:34-05

DENVER — The Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) is set to launch the second round of its Popup Denver program Friday, as it works with the city to revitalize the downtown area post-pandemic.

The program gives local entrepreneurs the chance to set up shop on 16th Street Mall with free rent and a stipend for storefront and marketing.

Round two will award eight businesses the opportunity, up from five businesses in round one. The DDP told Denver7 last year that it was increasing the amount for round two because of the overwhelming interest it received from applicants during the pilot.

As entrepreneurs prepare their pitches and applications for this latest opportunity, one of the businesses in the initial launch is shutting its doors.

RELATED: Three of five Popup Denver businesses to stay downtown after free rent ends

Tea with Tae, a local online tea business, made the jump to a brick and mortar location thanks to Popup Denver.

“It was pretty exciting,” said owner and founder Tae O’Dorisio. “When I got the call and the email from DDP, I did cry. I was really excited to have a location, a physical space, for Tea with Tae. And when our name was on the signs, that was a pretty exciting moment as well.”

O’Dorisio’s goal was to become a permanent feature of downtown Denver, and she said the collaborations with DDP and Allied Security were positive. However, the current challenges facing Denver small business owners, she said, made her goal of a long-term location downtown untenable.

“Where there was a convention at the convention center, there was a line, and it was long. But when the convention season was not happening, it was slow in here. And we did have a lot of different issues with transient populations,” O’Dorisio said. “I think when it became, like, every single day we were having to ask somebody to leave because they were in here, you know, yelling at people, or somebody coming in and defecating all over the floor, a stray bullet going through the window… as a small business that’s not having that foot traffic during slow seasons, it’s not sustainable.”

Shattered window at Tea with Tae Cafe
A window of the Tea with Tae Cafe is shattered after being hit by a stray bullet

According to the DDP, the return of traffic to downtown Denver has been a mixed a bag. Weekend visitors have reached 95% of pre-pandemic levels, according to DDP, and restaurant dining is actually ahead of 2019 levels. During the work week, however, foot traffic is still slightly over half of what it was before COVID-19, a trend that has been seen in cities across the country.

In November 2022, DDP and the City of Denver announced a public safety initiative with 40 partner organizations to address safety concerns downtown. The plan includes a heavier police presence, as well as mental health experts and substance abuse navigators to connect individuals with services.

While Tea with Tae is now returning to its origins, focusing on its online sales while courting other strategic partnerships through markets and trade shows, O’Dorisio says she is thankful to have been a part of the Popup Denver pilot. She says round two is an “exciting opportunity” for entrepreneurs who want the same chance.

“To close down is a little bit sad, and we had customers who loved it here. They came every single day,” she said. “But we are hopeful that one day in the future, in a different location at a different time, we could have another brick and mortar.”

Applications for round two of Popup Denver will be accepted Friday, Feb. 3 through Friday, March 3. You can learn more about the program and the application process on the Popup Denver website.

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