A view from the front lines of change: Ridge at 38 as seen by the businesses located on it.
By: Mara Owen
When Mike Gauthier opened Wheat Ridge Liquor located between North Harlan and Fenton Street on 38th Avenue eight years ago, he knew that change was on its way. Actually, one of the main reasons Gauthier chose Wheat Ridge as the location for his business was the opportunity he saw in this neighborhood. “You could see the energy across Sheridan would probably move this way. We really thought this neighborhood was going to change. Which it did, it has, and it’s doing it now”.
When explaining why he located here Gauthier points out that “it’s all about location; believe it or not, that’s not just real estate”. That awareness of geographical location is yet another factor that led him to choose the centrally located 38th Avenue. “It’s not in a new strip mall somewhere out on the edge of town. I really think that is where the trend is going, population wise. People don’t want to commute any more if they don’t have to”. Gauthier personally doesn’t want to drive all the way across town either to get to dining, entertainment or even work. “I grew up in Arvada, I still live in Arvada, and Wheat Ridge was always next door. We would go to Wheat Ridge to eat, but most of those restaurants are gone now”. The Wheat Ridge that Gauthier remembers is slowly returning. New restaurants and shops are popping up and filling the vacuum left behind by the stores of Gauthier’s childhood. “It’s coming back though”, he says with a grin.
For Wheat Ridge Liquor the progress is already starting to show up and pay off in real business terms. The store which used to see mostly the familiar faces of their regulars and long time residents has been watching the demographic of new families and faces increase dramatically. “There have been a lot of new people moving in, bringing their families and we have had to change a lot of what we sell here to match that”. One example of the shift in product at Wheat Ridge Liquor is their increased selection of wine and craft beer.
“(When we first took over) this store was not selling any wine” says Gauthier. Today, the liquor store has moved from a wine selection that boasted of Sutter Home and little else, to a well rounded variety that counts Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris in its ranks. Craft beer is another area where they are leaps and bounds from their start eight years ago. “We have managed to make a name for ourselves in the microbrewery category. We actually have breweries now approaching us like Prost and Odyssey…that helps you when you start getting that kind of reputation in the industry.” These relationships and the new customer base offer a huge advantage for Wheat Ridge Liquor in their product variety, and also how they can help give back and support the local beer community. “Some of these microbreweries are limited supply so not every liquor store has what we have”. These local microbreweries choose Wheat Ridge Liquor as a platform to reach out to new customers in their community and cultivate the neighborhood relationships because that is a big part of what Gauthier has focused on in his store.
Obviously, participating in the community is something that Gauthier values. So when the City started talking about making a plan for 38th Avenue a few years ago it piqued his curiosity and he was among those who attended the first public meetings just “to see what they were talking about”. After that first introduction, Gauthier continued being a part of the planning meetings and from there got involved with Ridge at 38. “Well, first of all I wanted to participate and have my opinion heard because I am a business owner on the corridor. It was my opportunity to express my thoughts and opinions on what would happen“. Gauthier still participates in the Ridge at 38 planning committees because he enjoys it. “I have made a lot of friends (with other business owners) and it has been beneficial in a lot of different ways. I feel more like I belong in the neighborhood”. As many business owners can relate, Gauthier may not live in Wheat Ridge, but he is very much a part of the community and probably spends more time here than some residents. “I am here a lot… probably more than I am at home. So in some ways I guess I do live here, I just don’t sleep here. Not yet”.
The change that Gauthier saw coming when he first chose Wheat Ridge for his business is here, and he is ready to watch it unfold. “Change is hard for people but it is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard for me too… I don’t always like change, but it’s exciting”. That excitement is being felt by more than just Gauthier and there are results to go with it. “People are coming in and coming back to this part of town. Maybe they grew up around here and haven’t been around for a while and decided to come back and check it out because they heard something or saw something on TV or in a magazine or on the internet.”
The creation of Ridge at 38 as a vibrant commercial corridor and downtown area for Wheat Ridge is an ongoing project that has brought up some controversy but Gauthier had this to say about the process: “There is one thing I know, that I have learned through all this, it’s that things take a lot longer than you think they will. So when you’ve got to talk about the future, you have got to tell yourself that it’s long term”.
As Gauthier has been aware of the changes happening along 38th Avenue since the beginning, it is rewarding for him to see things start happening and improving. So when asked what the most exciting thing happening on the corridor is right now, his choice is understandably one of the most apparent changes that have happened so far: “I know this sounds goofy, but I like the road diet. I think it really changes the flavor of the whole street. That alone has met its goal in my opinion”.
As much as he enjoys the progress and energy that has been collecting here on 38th Avenue and in Wheat Ridge in general, it is hard for him to fully appreciate how far it has come because there is still so much left to do. Regardless, looking back on the days of Sutter Home, it would be hard not to say that Wheat Ridge Liquors and its corridor have come a very long way.