On a Saturday late this winter, Terrance “Sol” Campbell joined several small business owners of color in one of Denver’s most gentrified neighborhoods, Five Points. They weren’t only trying to sell their goods but were also there to make a stand.
“It’s hard. But at the same time, I feel like it makes me stronger because it makes me want to be a stronghold in Five Points and in Denver,” Campbell said. “I’m still one of the last people surviving that’s been here before the changes and knows what it was like before and wants to represent that old family-style culture that the neighborhood really represents.”
Business owners like Campbell arrive at the Abstract Art Market mid-morning. The event took place on March 11 at the Highland Event Center, an old church converted into a community center by the organization Shared Ground. Some went inside and set their tables against the walls. Others set up outside. R&B and hip-hop played on a loudspeaker as the vendors talked and laughed with customers and each other.
Campbell, the owner of Love Chai, attends vending events to sell his signature chai drinks. At the Abstract Art Market event, Campbell greets customers with a large smile and fills up red sample cups for them to taste his cold brew. After taking a sip, customers tell him that it tastes just like gingerbread.
He has hopes of one day saving up enough money to open his own storefront in Five Points.
“I do have Native American blood and I feel very tied to this land,” Campbell said. “My ancestors fought and died here, and I’m still doing the same thing, even if it’s in a spiritual sense.”
His story aligns with that of other residents and businesses who have been in the community, witnessed the gentrification, and are either fighting to stay in the neighborhood that they call home, or working to create a space for their community members to thrive.
They include Menelik Marutle, a local artist and community organizer who grew up in Five Points but recently had to move out due to the rising cost of living.
Risё Jones, who owns TeaLee’s Tea House and Bookstore nearby, which is named after her grandmother.
“I always thought of my grandmother’s house as a place of comfort and good food and good conversation. So it’s a tribute to her,” Jones said.
And Dora Miera, a local resident that has lived in Five Points for her whole life and has no plans of leaving anytime soon.
Campbell, Marutle, Jones, and Miera all have hopes of continuing to live and work in Five Points, a historically African American neighborhood on the east side of Denver.
Five Points lies on the outskirts of downtown. The name comes from the crossing of five different streets—Welton Street, Washington Street, 27th Street, and East 26th Avenue—which create a star-like intersection. Around most corners and on the sides of many buildings are large, bright murals, many of them displaying the jazz-rich history of the community. Now, modern, sleek apartments have been built next to historical buildings and houses.
Campbell recalled many people around him having to sell their homes or getting pushed out. Over time, his community and family members have been spread out throughout Colorado or even to other states.
“It’s been really unfortunate cause a lot of my family and friends that grew up in my neighborhood of Five Points had to move out for one reason or another,” Campbell said.
Currently, more than half of the population of Five Points are white, non-Hispanic residents, according to a statistical analysis of Five Points compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. The demographic shift stands in stark contrast to this once vibrant Black community’s glory days when it was known across the country as “The Harlem of the West.”
Now, according to a study done by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Denver overall is one of the most gentrified cities in the United States. Five Points is changing rapidly. Despite the ongoing changes, people who have called Five Points their home are not ready to give up their fight for this neighborhood
“This is where I’m from and I have so many ties to my community,” Campbell said.
Campbell has thought about moving elsewhere, perhaps to a coastal city, but he wants his business here. Miera has seen many others forced out of the neighborhood by home prices that are three times the original cost, yet she is not ready to leave either.
“I stayed because I was born here and my grandparents were here,” Miera said. “Just the history. Most of my family lived in Five Points. But they’ve since moved just because of all the gentrification. My friend that lives around the corner from me, people are trying to buy her mom’s house and keep giving her more offers, but she’s not going to leave.”
Although there are some changes that have been beneficial for the community, such as increased funding to local businesses, residents that don’t fit a certain tax bracket feel like they still aren’t being seen, and aren’t receiving the same benefits.
“The landlord’s not going to put more work into where I live,” Miera said. “And he said he can sell it and get more money. But he won’t displace us because he knows, you know, it’s hard.”
Five Points will always be an important area for TeaLee’s owner, Jones. Jones’s parents moved to Five Points when they came to Denver in the 1940s. The neighborhood became their destination largely due to segregation and redlining.
“Living in that concentrated area had the benefit of, for them, they had lifelong friends. You got to know people generationally. The northeast neighborhood was a place where you went to school, you went to church, your friends were there, your family was concentrated in that area of town. So it very much felt like a community. It didn’t feel as segmented as it is now,” Jones said. “Growing up as a kid, I thought of it as a safe place for me.”
The diminished presence of the African-American community inspired her to open her tea house.
“The reason why it was created was so that there would be a place on the historic Five Points where people of color can still have some sense of history, meaning they can come into a place where there’s books and art and other people of color that have a gathering place,” Jones said.
By employing people and providing a space for people to get together and have food, drinks, tea, and events, Jones also wants to give back to the community through her business.
Local artist Marutle usually spends his time either attending or hosting pop-up shows and events. Due to the gentrification, he had to move out of the neighborhood he once called home. “I hosted my first event when I was 16,” Marutle said. “I did a Polaroid art show.”
“Growing up in Five Points was really cool,” Marutle said. “It was like a renaissance.”
Now when he goes into the area, he feels like his presence is being questioned, like he doesn’t belong anymore. Many of the businesses he used to frequent are being closed or forced to move, such as Welton Street Cafe, which is in the process of relocating. Residents and business owners continue to wonder if they will be able to afford to live in the neighborhood.
“Living in Five Points made me feel I was living to work. I was working to survive. I wasn’t working to live,” Marutle said.
Dr. Ana Contreras, coordinator of the Puksta Scholar Program at CU Boulder, has conducted research on racialized division, gentrification, and school closures in urban environments. Most of her work is in Montbello, another low-income, predominantly Hispanic and Black Denver neighborhood. However, Contreras sees parallels between the way gentrification impacts these communities.
“There is a long memory, a long legacy that happens in these communities,” Contreras said. “And when gentrification hits, it really breaks up that.”
Contreras said gentrification causes hubs or communities of color to close. As business owners and residents are forced out, prices and cost of living continue to increase.
Campbell is struggling to continue making a stand in Five Points. Once, he rode his skateboard up and down the streets. Now, he is working multiple jobs in order to stay afloat, all while trying to jumpstart his own business. He said not all of the incoming developments are necessarily bad, as long as the changes are handled with the broader community in mind.
One example of a new business that has hopes beyond just selling products is Little Bodega, recently opened by Natasha Butler. The former New York resident would frequent bodegas, and felt they were missing in Denver, especially in neighborhoods with higher rates of food insecurity like Five Points.
“People need to have access to bodegas because it’s not accessible for everyone to get in a car and go to a grocery store,” Butler said. “Not everybody has a car.”
Butler intentionally chose to live in the Five Points neighborhood when making her move to Denver.
“I wanted to be in the Five Points neighborhood for the bodega because I wanted to be in the historical Black neighborhood,” Butler said. “I’m multi-ethnic. I’m half Black, a quarter Caucasian, and quarter Japanese. And I wanted to bring a business into Five Points that would maintain the diversity aspect of the community. Black-owned businesses are starting to leave. So I wanted to be a footprint back into the community by adding that back in.”
Upbeat music plays from her speaker as she makes sandwiches for customers and stocks shelves. Whenever a new person comes in, she makes an effort to learn their name. Her friends from the tattoo shop a few doors down come in from time to time and chat with her. Before they head back, she offers them a sandwich to eat for lunch.
Butler values how community-focused the neighborhood is. So far, she has had great feedback from the community and has already begun to establish a pattern of regulars.
“I want to offer a space that is accessible to all people, all walks of life. From young, old, and all races, genders, and socioeconomic levels,” Butler said. “I do not want this place to be known as the place for all of the young white bros to come in and infiltrate because this is not the spot to be taken over from that. There’s plenty of places in Denver for that to happen, and this is not it.”
Both old and new residents are doing their best to ensure Five Points continues to thrive, regardless of the changing demographics.
“It’s a lively neighborhood,” Campbell said. “And even though it’s gentrified, the new community members do like to participate in contributing and giving back. So I’m thankful for that as well.”
Jones wants people to know that Five Points is not only a story of gentrification.
“Gentrification is something that’s happened all over the nation,” Jones said. “Without always bringing gentrification into it, [the neighborhood has] been rich historically because of the people who live down there and what the people brought to it. It’s a loved neighborhood with lots of memories.”