Explore Colorado

The Source: The Heart & Soul of Denver’s RiNo Arts District

An artisanal anchor in the revitalized industrial-turned-arts neighborhood

Corrugated aluminum panels line the former warehouses’ exposed brick walls at 3350 Brighton Boulevard, and a symphony of sensory experiences are quick to greet all who enter the community market, aptly named The Source.

The scent of freshly roasted coffee wafts through the air from Boxcar Coffee Roasters; a few feet away, glasses clink as customers giggle over unique libations at Crooked Stave. Shops and art galleries filled with homemade goods line the market’s walls; and colorful floral arrangements at Beet and Yarrow create beautiful contrast off of the industrial-themed surroundings. 

Thanks to thoughtful planning by Zeppelin Development, the creators of The Source, this public marketplace has become an anchor for one of Denver’s rapidly up-and-coming communities since its opening in 2013. 

“We’re place-makers,” states Justin Croft, general manager of The Source and project manager at Zeppelin Development during its founding. “We create places where there wasn’t anything before. Public markets are an old idea, this is just a new resurgence.” 

The Source has provided a formerly blighted area a new lease on life. Once filled with factories, RiNo, short for River North arts district, was a far cry from the arts-centric, craft-beer-loving community it is today. 

Over time, small galleries popped up in the abandoned spaces. People began moving to the neighborhood, but it lacked a central point around which everyone could rally; they didn’t have their “town hall.” The empty warehouse on Brighton Boulevard provided the perfect opportunity not only to create the new community space the neighborhood needed, it also had the potential to bring RiNo front and center in Denver’s growing culinary market. 

A look inside one of The Source’s popular eateries, Comida. (©Luca Venter)

“We’re experiencing a resurgence of culinary … a culinary renaissance,” Croft says. “We were reinvigorated and inspired by what Denver had to offer.” 

Zeppelin Development took this inspiration and began searching for partners to share in this endeavor. 

“Vendors were pretty carefully chosen,” Croft said. “They are all craftsmen who really know and care about their trade, and that’s what we wanted.” 

The vendors with homes inside The Source—more than a dozen at any given time—are the beating heart by which this new factory can function. They must work together to create a sustainable space, but there are benefits to the collaboration.  

“It’s not up to one business to bring people through the door,” Croft says. “You might come in for lunch at Comida and end up buying some bread from Babettes and cheese from Mondo Market. Everyone benefits from the foot traffic.” 

This communal mindset has been well-received by RiNo at large, especially by those who have lived in the area for quite some time. 

“We live just a few blocks away from The Source,” says Michelle Johnson, a local business owner and frequent customer of The Source. “Since moving to the neighborhood seven years ago we have been very excited to see the thoughtful transformation going on all around us.” 

The Source
Great weather and an inviting patio at The Source (©Timothy Hursley)

Part of this thoughtful transformation involves a switch to slow food and local finds, two movements Denver has embraced in recent years. 

Western Daughters, The Source’s resident butchery, sources its meat from within 150 miles. Acorn, known for its oak-fired oven, operates a seasonal menu and sources most of its produce from nearby farms. The transformation also involves another switch, but one within the establishments themselves. 

“We wanted to flip front-of-house and back-of-house and really emphasize the heart of these operations: the kitchen.” Croft says. By focusing on the product, business owners are able to make more meaningful connections with their diners, turning curious first-timers into repeat customers. 

“Our first visit to The Source was to Comida, where we had so much fun,” Johnson recalls. “We were back the next day. We’re comfortable there. We joke about it being our ‘Cheers.’” 

Residents and visitors alike have taken great interest in The Source. The collaboration of local artisans selling and serving such items as home goods and contemporary art at Svper Ordinary, barrel-aged craft brews at Crooked Stave and approachable New American fare at Acorn provides a true “local” experience. 

Crooked Stave
Crooked Stave’s full tap list is artistically displayed on the red-brick wall inside The Source. (©Crooked Stave)

Rustic and industrial décor, oftentimes with cement, wooden or steel accents, color-popping graffiti and eye-catching upcycled wall hangings add to the allure of spending an afternoon wandering the shops and taste-testing menus—both of the edible and drinkable varieties. 

The Source hosts multiple pop-up stores throughout the year, including a holiday market in December that provides additional local vendors with a space to peddle their wares during the busy holiday season. And educational lectures, movie nights and other one-time events are held in the market’s common area. 

An expansive new addition to The Source is planned to break ground in 2016. It will double the number of vendors and include a one-of-a-kind hotel allowing travelers to experience RiNo, front and center. Continuing on the path of revitalization, Brighton Boulevard will soon see elevated cycling paths and completely new landscaping, proving the once-torn-up terrain to be a thing of the past and inspiring more people to enjoy all that the food and arts district has to offer. 

“The Source has put RiNo on the map,” Johnson says. “It really is a mirror of our booming Denver economy and the very cool city that Denver is.”