Ink coffee shop in Five Points in Denver has been under fire for the past week after it posted a sign outside saying “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.”
Protestors have gathered outside the coffee shop every morning since saying gentrification is no joke. One of those involved in the protests is Tony Pigford, a 4th generation Denverite, community organizer and activist.
“For me that struck such a chord because I’ve got such a long history in Denver, and coming from an African American family who has scratched and clawed and fought just to hold space in this neighborhood for over a hundred years, to have all of that hard work and sacrifice mocked by Ink! coffee and Cultivator advertising was really hard.”
In 1901 The Colored American Loan and Realty Company was founded by Pigford’s great grandfather at 2636 Welton in Five Points, with a view to helping African Americans acquire and maintain properties. “In essence over a hundred years ago my great grandfather was trying to help us prevent what’s happening now.” Pigford lives in the Denver house bought by his grandfather in 1937 and has seen the community change as housing prices rise.
“I come from a family that has really been struggling to maintain that space and maintain a foothold in the community and fight against a lot of structural racism and red-lining and so forth and so personally, that’s why I took that sign the way that I did, it immediately triggered me.”
Property prices in this part of Denver have sky rocketed and as a result, Five Points, which has historically been an African American neighborhood, is becoming less diverse. Pigford says that those who can actually afford to stay in the area are feeling less welcome. “I’ve seen a lot of elders priced out of their homes, I’ve seen a lot of people who are renters not be able to stay in their homes, so it’s just been pretty dramatic and allowing people to stay in a place who have been in a community for a long time is one thing, but feeling comfortable in the community when they do stay is a whole other issue.”
Ink! coffee has been the subject of protests every day for the past week and recently Denver City Council member Albus Brooks and Denver mayor Michael Hancock have added their voices to the protests. But Pigford and other protestors say these city leaders are actually contributing to the overall gentrification problem. “I don’t think that councilman Brooks and mayor Hancock have done much of anything at all to impede gentrification, and in fact they’ve exacerbated it.” Pigford points to policies like the camping ban in Denver and the storm water fee funded Platte to Parkhill storm water project, related to the I-70 expansion.
“As you see people priced out of homes and our most vulnerable suffer, you see our city leaders who are in cahoots with developers, most of their campaign finance money comes from developers and real estate and bankers. While people are struggling, they’re coming up with ways to raise billions and billions of dollars that’s not helping people that need it most.”