DENVER — Just days away from the beginning of All-Star Week, business owners and city officials see the upcoming festivities as a somewhat unofficial reopening of downtown.
Almost every day a returning customer will walk in the door at Ballpark Vienna Beef and thank the owner for staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You're still here," one woman excitedly shouted as she placed an order for one of their signature Italian beef sandwiches.
"For a year and a half it was really boring in there," said owner Jeremy Williamson, who owned the hot dog shop for 11 years but joked he wasn't sure if last year counted.
Williamson is now gearing up for what he hopes will be his busiest weekend since the COVID-19 pandemic nearly destroyed his business. Baseball and hot dogs go hand-in-hand so he could not be more excited for the All-Star Game. He's just glad he was able to survive long enough to see it happen.
"I had a really good landlord. We were able to barely break even," Williamson said. "I have no idea what to expect though. It’s going to be huge."
As bars set out banners welcoming baseball fans, images of a deserted downtown and games at Coors Field without fans almost seem like distant memories.
"We certainly viewed it as an opportunity to bring baseball back as well, not only to bring Denver back, but we want to show our fans who are now packing ballparks across the country that the All-Star Game is back. The season is back on track," said Jeremiah Yolkut, MLB Director of Events & Scheduling.
Even though Denver is preparing to welcome tourists from all over, some of the most important visitors might be Coloradans who haven't been downtown in more than a year.
"We are inviting them to come down and see the city is open for business, that downtown is just as vibrant as it has ever been, and we want them to come and enjoy," Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Happy reunions are also taking place at Denver Beer Company where business at the Platte Street location is steadily increasing.
"I would say in the last, I’m going to say month, it has really ramped up down here, which it’s fun to see," said Andy Parker, director of innovation for the brewery.
Parker said people are just happy to be on the patio drinking beers with friends. He's expecting that patio to be packing during All-Star Week as thirsty fans look to experience Denver's craft beer scene.
Denver Beer Company is rolling out several baseball themed brews to celebrate the event, including an imperial hazy IPA named Big League Sticky, in reference to the recent scandal involving pitchers who are accused of applying sticky substances to baseballs. There's also a purple beer in honor of the Colorado Rockies and a hazy session IPA called Little League.
"Oh, we’re pretty happy about it. It’s a big deal for the city, it’s going to bring a lot of money to the economy here, that’s awesome, and yeah, for the baseball fans here, it’s going to be pretty insane," Parker said. "I also can’t wait to see how many tourists are going to come into downtown for this."