By: Frank DeAngeli
Southwest Denver – the area between Colfax Avenue, Florida Avenue, Santa Fe Drive, and Sheridan Boulevard— has long been home to hundreds of small businesses, a number of which are owned and operated by immigrant families residing in the area. After being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, many that weathered the storm have struggled to regain footing.
In an effort to provide relief to these establishments, the West Denver Small Business Coalition (WDSBC) created the West Denver Marketplaces program in December 2022. Established in June 2020, the coalition represents an effort by several local leaders to support and advocate for the area’s small businesses, and the Marketplaces program was formulated to do just that.
In 2021, WDSBC conducted a survey of 217 businesses in the area. Of these, 78% said their business was doing “ok” or was “struggling some,” and 52% said their business was doing worse as a result of COVID-19. Many respondents listed access to grants/funding and an improved digital presence as some of their greatest needs.
The West Denver Marketplaces program seeks to address these needs directly. The program is twofold: help these businesses navigate an arduous grant and loan application process, and assist them in marketing to a broader audience.
Describing the grant and loan applications for small enterprises, Anyssa Juarez, planning manager for Denver Housing Authority said, “The biggest issue is access. Southwest Denver is known for being highly multicultural, and a lot of [applications] are only available in English. [Applicants] may not be able to figure out how to get onto an online portal, and if it’s in a different language, forget it.”
Juarez also said that this difficulty can be compounded, when the few employees a business may have are focused on running the business — up to 12 hours a day, often seven days per week. Organizations like NEWSED and Mile High United Way are among those partners lending a hand in these hard-to-navigate grant and loan applications.
To spread the word about the business community in West Denver, WDSBC compiled a directory of these small businesses on the program’s website,, westdenvermarketplaces.com. This directory consolidates a variety of businesses, ranging from restaurants to auto shops, to art galleries, into an easily accessible virtual guide. Additionally, the coalition has filmed and posted promotional videos for 12 businesses, with more planned for the near future.
Another key portion of the West Denver Marketplaces program is the creation of a gift card initiative. Also available on the website, the program allows patrons to purchase one gift card to use at any of 117 different businesses in the area. Juarez said that even though this program is in its early stages, the gift card option has already brought thousands of dollars directly to member businesses.
According to Juarez, a driving factor behind the effort to support local enterprise is to mitigate displacement of residents through preservation and stabilization of businesses.
“When you look at the data of southwest Denver, it has a higher percentage of doubled-up households than any other part of the city, meaning that people who are living in southwest Denver are at significant risk of displacement and becoming homeless,” Juarez said. “[We want to] make sure that we have continued investment coming to this area, and one of the ways we’re doing that is with this gift card.”
Another reason to patronize these businesses? “[They’re] awesome. The area has some of the most culturally authentic businesses and people who live there,” Juarez said. “The restaurants, these are recipes that came from [owners’] great grandparents in Vietnam or in Mexico, or other parts of the world, which is really neat to be able to experience. These are mom-and-pop shops that really genuinely care.”
Moving forward, Juarez would like to see continued funding for the West Denver Marketplaces program, as well as a steady flow of new businesses to the area.
“A lot of people ask, ‘How can I support locally? How can I support small businesses?’ And I’m hoping that if we continue to bring awareness to the program, this is a way that they’ll know how.”
View the article here.