Westward Gallery, which has anchored the corner of West 44th Avenue and Tennyson Street for the past seven years, is closing. Owner Michelle Courier has decided she will shut the doors of the neighborhood art space on September 30, amidst rising rent prices and a changing culture in the Berkeley neighborhood.
“Rent’s going too high to be here anymore, and I can’t stay here and keep watching it go higher,” Courier said. “One by one, every small business owner is leaving.”
Though the West Denver neighborhood once represented a strong cultural center, gentrification has alienated some who have called it home for decades.
“I fell in love with [Tennyson], this whole area used to be so beautiful and fun, it felt like a small town,” Courier said. “But all my favorite places were torn down or sold by the landlord, not the tenant. I’m ready to find somewhere smaller with some charm.”
She’s not the only one. As Denver’s boom in growth continues, rents increase and many small business owners have been forced to close their doors. Berkeley in particular, which jumped from No. 22 to No. 3 on 5280 Magazine’s desirable neighborhoods list, has seen a surge in popularity and pricing that many business owners have struggled to pay. In recent months popular spots like Local 46 and Book Bar have both closed.
“Back in 2017, Pearl Street Fitness sent out an email that their rent was going to triple and they had nowhere to go, so I let them use my gallery as a workout room from 5 to 10 in the morning.” Courier said. “When Local 46 got torn down I kind of lost my spirit.”
The gallery as it stands today provides an important space for local artists to display and sell their work. The eclectic collection ranges from abstract nature portraits by Talia Swartz Parsell to Courier’s own acrylic work. Even Courier’s daughter Kelsey has a featured collection, placed centrally on the wall opposite the front door.
“[The artists] find me. If I like them as a human and their artwork speaks to me, I figure somebody else is going to love it. Actually, all of the artists I have I’ve bought a piece from,” Courier said. The gallery has featured over 15 artists, all Colorado locals. “I consider all my artists my friends and family.”
Luckily, Courier’s ambitions are not ending with the gallery. She’s hoping to relocate to a smaller space in Colorado or an artistic community in one of the surrounding states. She has opportunities in Helper, Utah and Lake Tahoe, California, but plans to spend the next few months in the Denver area.
In her announcement on Facebook, she said, “Perhaps one day I will come upon another magical space that will carry the same name, but for now I’m carrying it with me onto its next Westward journey. Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to visit Westward and take home a piece and supported local business. I am proud to say that over 1000 paintings have found new homes from Westward all over the world! I will miss this space but welcome change and seek a new kind of magic. It will find me.”
Westward Gallery will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 pm until Sept. 30. The gallery will also be open First Friday August 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. and First and Second Friday Sept.1 and 8. Finally Michelle plans to celebrate her birthday in the gallery on September 16 starting at 6 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.