Willie Stewart touches up a tattoo inside his Ananda Art

Willie Stewart touches up a tattoo inside his Ananda Art

It wasn’t long ago that Willie Stewart ran his Ananda Art and Tattoo shop in Denver’s Highland neighborhood, a hip and vibrant urban playground that for years has been one of the trendiest places to live in the Mile High City. But when Stewart’s lease was due for renewal last year, he decided to pack his inks and needles and take his business elsewhere.

“I mean the Highlands is cool, but real estate was getting ridiculous,” said Stewart, who opened his shop there in 2009. “And there’s nowhere to park, and there were some weird, pretentious people you had to deal with.”

Now, Stewart operates on Wheat Ridge’s 38th Avenue, in a downtown corridor between Sheridan and Wadsworth Boulevards known as the Ridge at 38. “I never thought about coming out to Wheat Ridge,” he said. “It was definitely a gamble. Just leaving that ZIP code seemed crazy to me, leaving Denver proper and coming out to the ‘burbs. But I think its actually a good move.”

Folks like Stewart are exactly the kind of business owner whom the City of Wheat Ridge is trying to lure away from places like Denver, through marketing and business incentives, such as the Revitalization Incentive Program

Through the Wheat Ridge Business District — a 38th Avenue revitalization partnership between the city and business owners — the program provides up to $11,000 in matching grants for facade and sign improvements, and architectural design.

The money is budgeted through the city’s general fund. Through the Revitalization Incentive Program and other incentives available to businesses, the city is hoping to attract new shops and eateries to this up-and-coming downtown area.

“It’s been a huge success on 38th Avenue,” said Steve Art, the city’s Economic Development and Urban Renewal manager. “It’s great to have another tool in our tool box to help small business owners start a business there.”

Stewart, who opened his shop on 38th Avenue in November, has yet to take advantage of the available incentives, but he said he plans on looking into them. But Justin Vogel, a co-owner of Right Coast Pizza, already has.

“The city is willing to help you out and bend over backwards for you,” said Vogel, who opened his New Jersey-style pizza place last year. Like Stewart, Vogel had reservations before deciding to start a business here.

“Obviously, I was worried at first about things like age demographics and not having business from the income levels of people we see in the Highlands. But, so far, it’s been absolutely fantastic.”

Vogel said he hears from people all the time who are fed up with real estate pricing and parking issues in the Highlands. Vogel and Stewart also believe it’s a lot easier to get things done through the City of Wheat Ridge, compared to Denver.

“Going to Denver City Hall is like pulling teeth,” Stewart said. “You know, pull a number and deal with some sassy lady at the counter. Down here there’s a handful of people you can talk to immediately. The licensing was a lot cheaper and the building permit people get stuff resolved.” Vogel and Stewart believe that the more people hear about what’s going on west of the Highlands, the more Ridge at 38 will prosper.

“There’s lots of stuff coming up over here,” Stewart said. “It’s so close to the Highlands that, with the growth over there, people realize that if they just cross Sheridan you can get a lot more for a better price.”

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