Denver coffee shop apologizes for gentrification ‘joke’

Colleen Slevin

Denver – A coffee shop targeted by protesters after a message about gentrification struck a nerve in a rapidly changing city remained closed Monday despite an apology and plans to reopen after the holiday weekend.

Last week, Ink! Coffee displayed a sidewalk sign that said “Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood Since 2014” outside a store in a historically diverse neighborhood near downtown Denver. Outrage over the message, fueled by anger over a city being dramatically transformed by an influx of newcomers, quickly spread on social media. A window was broken at the shop and “White Coffee” painted on the building and about 200 people protested there Saturday.

The Colorado chain initially called the sign a bad joke but later founder Keith Herbert explained it was part of an advertising campaign. In a statement, he said he saw the campaign as a way to take pride in being part of a “dynamic, evolving community” that is inclusive but was now embarrassed to say that he did not “fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification.”

“I recognize that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize - absolutely and unequivocally,” said Herbert, who promised to educate himself and his colleagues about the issue and show ways to express his contrition.

A sign posted on the door of the shop said it would reopen Monday. No one answered the phone at the shop or company’s office and an email seeking an explanation was not returned.

The shop is located near Five Points, a once largely black neighborhood, in a former industrial area that has become one of Denver’s trendiest neighborhoods filled with breweries, restaurants and apartments, driving up rent and forcing many longtime residents to move.

Herbert also wrote a letter this weekend to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock apologizing. Hancock’s office released a copy on Monday.

“I am embarrassed that we failed our local community and for the anger, frustration and disappointment many of our neighbors are feeling,” Herbert wrote.

City councilman Albus Brooks, who represents the area, said he was angered by the sign but urged residents to focus on patronizing businesses that support their values and resisting the urge to retaliate against the shop. He said he planned to ask Ink to have its workers undergo “cultural competency training” by a member of the community.

Merriam-Webster tweeted that searches for “gentrification” and “gentrify” on its online dictionary rose 2,500 percent Monday following media coverage of the controversy.