Hello DenverInfill community.  My name is Chris, and I am an urbanist.   And yes – for my first post I am going to talk about cupcakes.

When discussing the urban evolution of Denver, it is the high-profile projects that tend to get the enduring ink.   Large-scale development projects, sports and cultural facilities, transportation projects, and downtown high-rises are typically (and worthily) the posterized snapshots of progress.  However, the improvement of the urban fabric of our city is perhaps more contingent on smaller moves that provide momentum to larger change, and ultimately have a more profound impact on the day-to-day lifestyle of urban residents and workers.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing some of the physical, economic and social factors that are sometimes overlooked but supply our neighborhoods with richness and vitality.

Today’s topic – Successful cult business enterprises:

Many of our urban neighborhoods are home to locally-grown businesses with cult-like followings (and no, I’m not talking about the pot shop phenomenon).  These businesses tend to offer some combination of great food, funky atmosphere, and highly-personal service – and are, more often than not, found in low-rent buildings that serve (or once served) as de facto business incubators.  Dozens of examples exist across center-city neighborhoods – Snooze restaurants, Stella’s on Pearl Street, the Perfect Petal in Highlands, to name a few.

One very current example of the effect of successful cult businesses on the community is Happy Cakes, the Highlands cupcake shop.  Opened in a tiny space at 32nd and Newton Streets in 2007, Happy Cakes is in that not-quite-Highlands-Square fringe that – at the time – needed an entrepreneurial kick-start.  Enter Happy Cakes (and their co-tenant Generous Servings), some delicious confections, and a hungry public… and, well, a sweet success story was made.  Combined with additional re-purposing of long-standing buildings along 32nd Avenue west of Meade Street, Happy Cakes and its neighbor businesses have extended the length and vitality of the Highlands Square business district.  This, in turn, enhances the walkability of the larger neighborhood, increases property values, and encourages investment.  But it gets even better…

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Sometime in the next week or two, Happy Cakes will be moving.  Success has bred the need for more room, and more room was found just down the street.  Recently, the West Side Books space – the long-tenured used book store near 32nd and Julian – underwent a small-scale but important infill of what had long been an underutilized street frontage on 32nd Avenue.  This infill not only brings more vitality to the street, it also provides a new home for a neighborhood icon in the heart of a district that has been built on neighborhood icons.  And the move of Happy Cakes to the heart of Highlands Square opens up a spot for the next locally-grown business to gain its own following.

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If you’re keeping score: that’s one vital business, one street-enlivening infill project, one hopefully-successful future endeavor, and the continued satisfaction of many a Denver stomach.

Next up:  Dedicated community-oriented open space – with a purpose.