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Saying goodbye to Smiley’s laundromat (again)

BY BREE DAVIES | @CocoDavies


For the last few weeks, the 1930s-era brick building on the southwest corner of Downing and Colfax has been shrouded in scaffolding. Throughout its nearly 100 years of life, the structure at 1080 E. Colfax has been home to a produce stand, a bakery, a grocery store, a beauty parlor, and most recently, a dentist office. But it is best known for its tenant from 1979 to 2013  — Smiley’s, a massive laundromat filled with hundreds of industrial size washers and dryers, plus a dry cleaners.

The structure itself doesn’t stand out architecturally (though Historic Denver points out that its Art Deco detailing, like the angled brickwork, makes the building nice to look at). If anything, the Smiley’s building does a great job of blending into the built environment of this busy Colfax corridor, which is essentially what good, functional architecture is supposed to do, right?

I giggled reading Patty Calhoun’s recounting of a moment in the late ’80s when Visit Denver thought we were going to get our big break — The “Today Show” was doing a feature on Denver after we were named one of the country’s “most liveable cities.” Sadly for our tourism bureau, the national morning show kicked off the segment with… the indelible image of someone wandering out of Smiley’s Laundromat. If you missed the Smiley’s era of Colfax, just know that it was hardly a time – or place – Denver could be proud of.

But now, in a 2022 version of Denver, I would be proud of a place like Smiley’s. Not just because it proclaimed itself to be “the world’s largest laundromat,” or that in its last years on the block before closing in 2013, it was known for its used car dealership-style painted windows proclaiming “Free WiFi!” I would be proud of Smiley’s because, much like many of the diners we’ve lost in the last half-decade, the laundromat was once a great crossroads of humanity.

Reminiscing about Smiley’s back in 2013 in Westword, I described the clientele as: “Babies high on candy and up way past their bedtimes, girls in inappropriate club attire washing their sheets (me), and gentleman offering gifts of stray earrings and left-over shirts found in washing machines populated the laundromat. It was as if the multiple rooms of washers and dryers had been perfectly curated by someone with a full understanding of Colfax’s bizarre inhabitants.”

There were efforts in the past decade to preserve the Smiley’s building, along with hopes of incorporating the existing structure into any new construction on the property — the building is hugged on multiple sides by seas of parking lots, which left plenty of room for creative reuse. But its most recent owners have decided it will all come down. The Smiley’s building shares a section of Colfax with The Ramada Inn (or the “Rock-mada” as many of you told me it was lovingly called) just across Downing Street, which is also in the process of coming down. Soon, that era of this intersection will only be recognizable by Paul’s Liquors — the spot’s last remaining historic structure from my early 20s.

— Bree Davies


“What are you going to do? You’re going to sit here and just mope around and watch everybody else living their dream, or you’re going to fight for this. And that’s what I decided to do.” — Maria Rangel, owner of Maiz Food Truck

Wanna Open a Restaurant in Denver Right Now? Start with Four Wheels and a Dream
There was a time when food trucks were the hottest thing out there, and it seemed like every chef and restaurateur wanted to sell sushi burritos on a street corner for $15 a pop. But now that the novelty has worn off, where do food trucks fit in Denver’s dining scene? And what does it take to start one now? We’ve been looking at all aspects of Denver dining during Denver Restaurant Week this week, and today host Bree Davies speaks with Maria Rangel, a former EMT who left healthcare to start cooking and selling gorditas out of a truck in the middle of a global pandemic.


🚧 Some good traffic news: This morning, construction crews working on the Central 70 project should finally be able to reroute I-70 eastbound traffic between Steele Street/Vasquez Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard into its new, permanent lanes. Until now, traffic going in either direction was squeezed into the westbound lanes. [Denver Post]

⚖️ Right-to-abortion bill moves forward: The bill that would codify Coloradans’ legal right to abortion cleared the state House on Monday. It’s headed to the Democratic-led Senate next, where the bill is expected to pass swifty, before getting the final stamp of approval from Gov. Polis, who has already indicated his support. [Denver Post]

⛷️ The people spoke up, Vail Resorts listened: After tens of thousands of skiers and snowboarders across the country signed a petition called “Hold Vail Resorts Accountable” — calling out the company for subpar employee conditions and for failing to deliver the experience it promises — the resort has announced it will increase staff wages to a minimum of $20 an hour, as well as investing up to $327 million in resort upgrades at 14 of its locations.  [CO Sun

👀 A gun at the capitol: Republican State Rep. Richard Holtorf caused a stir at the state Capitol on Monday when he accidentally dropped his handgun in a public area. No one was injured, and he has a concealed carry permit, but some have said the incident “created a dangerous situation.” [CPR]

🕺 “Ball Hammocks” and other weird clothes: Shinesty, a Boulder-based company known for its over-the-top apparel and for trademarking the term “Ball Hammock” for its men’s briefs, is leasing a second distribution facility in Denver, where it also recently relocated its headquarters. I’m mostly telling you this so I can show off mine and my husband’s go-to matching Christmas party outfits that we bought from Shinesty. 👇 [BusinessDen]

— Peyton Garcia

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