The many lives of Larimer: once slated for demolition, historic block recaptures past prominence.

Author:Jackson, Margaret

IN THE 50 YEARS SINCE PRESERVATIONIST Dana Crawford revealed her vision for one of Denver's most beloved shopping and dining destinations, the retail on historic Larimer Square has come full circle.

It started with locally owned businesses, but Crawford soon discovered that she needed national credit tenants to make the popular destination profitable. She landed Ann Taylor, Laura Ashley, Talbot's and Williams-Sonoma.

"We realized we needed to get big national tenants that weren't in Denver," Crawford says. "Our original philosophy was local tenants, but we had to grow up and get some triple A tenants to make it work financially."

One of Crawford's original tenants still occupies 595 square feet on the block. Gusterman's Silversmiths has seen its rent rise, but remains on the block because moving a business can zap its momentum, says Mary Gusterman, owner of the shop.

"You work really hard to get a business going and have clients built up," Gusterman says. "I like the historic buildings. Besides giving it a nice comfortable air of establishment and solidity, Larimer Square came into being at a time when urban renewal wasn't that big of a deal. It paved the way, and I got to watch it happen."

With an estimated 2 million pedestrians visiting the street annually, it's no wonder that retailers and restaurant owners like the location. David Prebble, owner of Victoriana Antique & Fine Jewelry, spent 13 years on Larimer Square before relocating to Writer Square after then-owner TrizecHahn changed the terms of a lease he'd signed just two days before. By the time his lease on Writer Square came up, Larimer had new owners--Larimer Associates, controlled by Jeff Hermanson.

Writer Square's new owners had jacked up the lease rates, so Prebble started talking with Larimer Associates, ultimately getting a deal that reduced his rate by $20,000 annually. Moving back to the block also has proven to be good for Prebble's business. So far this year, his sales are up 42 percent.

"Larimer Associates has always done a great job of marketing the local ownership, and they take care of the tenants," Prebble says.

Though its look and feel is far different from a mall, Larimer Square operates in much the same way, says John Imbergamo, an independent restaurant consultant who has several clients on the block. Larimer Square takes a percentage of sales from most of its tenants at a rate that is in keeping with that of shopping centers. The common area maintenance (CAM)...

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