On a blue-sky afternoon, typical of Colorado spring, people walk and jog the streets of North Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood with their dogs. César Chávez Park’s playground is full of children, along with adults sitting in the surrounding area’s green grass as people pass by, stopping in shops on their lunch breaks.
Hotels, breweries, restaurants and coffee shops line Tennyson Street, the main thoroughfare in town that seems to constantly change. But many local businesses occupy charming old buildings that went up around Berkley’s inception, and hope to keep them that way.
The Berkeley neighborhood started in 1863 with a handful of humble homesteads. As the 1900s approached, nearly 500 people lived in what was then the Town of North Denver (which became Berkeley in 1898). Today, Berkley is an unincorporated, census-designated part of the northwest Denver-Aurora area with a population of over 12,000.
Historical locations, like local couple John and Mary’s Elitch’s Gardens–which opened on 38th and Tennyson Street in 1890 as one of the first zoos West of Chicago and Denver’s first botanic garden–helped popularize the area. Elitch Theater, still a venue today, opened in 1892 as the first to show movies in the Denver area.
Over 100 years ago, Berkeley’s Tennyson Street was full of bakeries like Bakery Four, a modern-looking cafe serving coffee, bread and baked goods, only open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday. Over time, the neighborhood’s grocery stores were joined by the likes of Small Batch, a craft wine, beer and liquor store.
Where beauty shops once stood downtown, modern hair salons and Sarah O. Jewelry have taken over, and tailors have turned into curated menswear stores like Berkeley Supply. Though Elitch Gardens is now an amusement park located in Denver proper, the Berkeley neighborhood, which has been dedicated to arts and culture since its inception, continues to prioritize the two and preserve its history.
“You can spend all day going to different local businesses, mostly mom-and-pop shops,” says Alex Balkovatz, marketing manager for Sarah O. Jewelry. The everyday and fine jewelry store opened on Tennyson Street as Ooh! Aah! Jewelry in 2006 and rebranded in 2015. “It has that small-town feeling right in the middle of Denver, which I think is unique to Tennyson Street.”
Because of Tennyson Street’s walkable charm, “we want people to see Tennyson Street as not a stop for lunch, not a stop to pick up something from the store, but more of an experience of our whole block and of our neighborhood,” Alex says.
Though Tennyson Street and the surrounding neighborhoods remain walkable, they have changed quite a bit. In 2006, there were only a handful of boutiques on Tennyson Street, says Alex. Since, Tennyson Street has given way to more restaurants and condos. With this development, Sarah O. Jewelry’s founder, along with the Tennyson Berkeley Business Association that she’s a part of, recognize the gentrification and turnover happening in the city and aim to conserve its past.
The Berkeley neighborhood works toward this by balancing new demographics with serving “the community that has been by our side and has been walking our streets for years and years,” Alex says. “Tennyson Street does come with so much history that I know it’s really of importance for a lot of business owners to maintain that same feeling and not let it be overrun by new businesses and condos.”
To do this, Sarah O. Jewelry and several other local businesses work toward making sure that “Tennyson is still a place for people from all walks of life,” Alex says. “We really pride ourselves on being somewhere that anyone can walk into and feel like they belong. I think that captures the spirit of Tennyson as well. I think that’s what we fight to keep, and what keeps people around.”