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Marijuana business struggling to survive National Western Complex construction

Posted at 8:21 PM, Oct 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-03 22:21:36-04

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DENVER -- Construction on Brighton Boulevard is ramping up as two redevelopment projects get underway. On one side of I-70, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has closed the street from 44th to I-70 as part of its $1.2 billion Central 70 project.

On the other side, the city is ripping up the road around the National Western Complex for a major redevelopment project in the area.

Many businesses around that redevelopment project have either closed or relocated but there are a few final holdouts. One of them is the marijuana dispensary that’s right in the heart of the construction zone.

“When Starbuds opened here in 2013, I mean, we never expected that they would re-develop this whole area like this,” said CEO Brian Ruden.

All of this construction has been bad for his business.

“I’m operating the business as a loss. So, I’m paying out of pocket to keep the doors open,” Ruden said.

He estimates that business is down by about half since this time last year. The other Starbuds locations are trying to counter this location’s losses in the short term while it waits for construction to be completed.

“It’s supposed to be spectacular when it’s done,” Ruden said.

While Ruden is looking forward to that day, he says the city has done little to help his store survive the construction.

“I actually reached out to the city to see if I could put a very simple open during construction sign at the point with construction starts and they said no,” Ruden said.

In an email to Denver7, the city cited marijuana advertising laws for the reason it denied Ruden’s requests.

“Restrictions on marijuana store signage is an important part of Denver’s critical efforts to reduce marijuana exposure to those who are underage to consume,” a statement from the city to Denver7 said. “In rare circumstances like this with road construction, it can create a challenge for marijuana businesses. However, our efforts like this geared towards reducing underage exposure to marijuana is paying off with Denver youth usage down 5 points to 21 percent according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.”

Ruden says he doesn’t think the sign would save his business but it’s important to at least people know the store is still there.

The store has relegated all of that advertising to its website. It’s even offering 10 percent discounts to anyone that braves the construction dust and detours to get there.

“Thankfully our customers are still finding us, the really diehard people,” he said.

But Ruden has a bigger concern: he’s worried the dispensary might not fit in with the city’s vision for the area once the redevelopment is complete.

So for now, he’s taking a gamble and operating at a loss, hoping he’ll be allowed to stay.

“Either this turns into a spectacular location for me because I’m catty corner to the National Western development or it becomes my worst nightmare which the city then tries to run me out of here,” he said.

This isn't Ruden's first showdown with the city. In 2016, the Brighton Boulevard Starbuds location lost its cultivation license in a first-of-its-kind decision. The city said the operation is hurting the area's aspirational neighborhood plan and the odor was offending people. 

For its part, the city says it has reached out to the store and Ruden numerous times and had face-to-face meetings with every business in the area to discuss the construction.

Spokesperson Jenna Espinoza denied Ruden’s claims that he’s been left in the dark, saying it couldn’t be further from the truth.

She said the city had invited him to join a citizen’s advisory group that meeting monthly to discuss the construction’s progress and listen to concerns from the public.

However, Espinoza did acknowledge that the city is not compensating businesses for lost profits during the construction and normally doesn’t do that.

As for Ruden’s concerns about not fitting in with the city’s redevelopment vision, Espinoza said the Starbuds store falls outside of the National Western Complex campus and is not within its boundaries so it doesn’t affect the project and will be allowed to remain where it is.

The good news? Espinoza says the construction on Brighton Boulevard is on budget and set to be completed on time by the end of the year.