After just a year in business, the Five Points bodega-like grocer Melody Market at 2590 North Washington Street will be closing its doors by the end of January. Owner LaSheita Sayer says issues with her building and closures of nearby businesses has led to exorbitant expenses and not enough foot traffic for the market to stay in business.
Melody Market opened in February 2022 after waiting more than a year for the buildout. The preparations took longer than anticipated, partially because of delays related to the complex permitting process in the city of Denver, and because Sayer insisted on having fresh food in the market, which is a more complicated process than having just packaged items; she wanted the market to be a solution to the food desert in the Curtis Park and Five Points area.
“People would come in so grateful they didn’t have to go to Safeway,” she notes. “We have all these little unique items requested by the community. That’s the value I can bring as a neighborhood market.”
But the year has been tough. Sayer notes that while she has a good base of customers from local residents, the closure of businesses like Sherry’s Soda Shoppe and Coffee at the Point has decreased foot traffic. Melody Market served both customers and employees at these businesses, and the loss of Coffee at the Point alone led to a 15 percent drop in sales, she adds. “I’m a neighborhood resource. I’m where you stop on the way to something else.”
The store has also faced a number of challenges with the physical space. In August, a storefront window was broken, and there have been a half-dozen leaks from the ceiling. The broken window, which Sayer says took four months to repair, led to increased utilities bills. “Do you know how many candy bars I have to sell to make up $3,000 in additional utility expenses?” she asks.
And the leaks led to inventory loss and a store closure when water literally rained down from the ceiling on Christmas Eve.
“People are walking into a store with buckets on the ground,” laments Sayer, who also owns the public relations firm ZoZo Group, which previously operated out of the same storefront as Melody Market. As an entrepreneur, she understands that owning a business means having to pivot to change. But, as she explains, “when you only have one of these things to deal with…it will hurt for a couple of months. With so many all at the same time, there was no final straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Melody Market’s rent hasn’t been paid since August, says the nonprofit Hope Communities, which manages the mixed-use affordable-housing space where it’s located. The multi-year lease Sayer signed includes an annual increase in rent, but she says she couldn’t afford the increase in August. Business was not sufficient to cover costs yet, and she had been paying the lease throughout the longer-than-expected buildout herself. “Melody Market needed time to be there,” she adds.
Sayer says she did send monthly checks for the original amount of the lease, but that Hope Communities returned them. “I really needed my landlord to be more supportive,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting to make loads of money, but we could never break even.”
In response to a request for comment, Hope Communities shared a statement from its president and CEO, Sharon Knight: “Our organization is diligent in maintaining its properties. There are highly qualified maintenance technicians on-site and on-call for immediate response to any property issues. They have been quick to respond to, pay for and immediately repair all issues.
“As a nonprofit, we have supported the Five Points community with housing, programs, and services for 43 years as a means to support family stability and equitable access to opportunity. We do have a fiduciary responsibility to demonstrate strong business practices in relation to the property. We will soon begin the work to vet and secure a new tenant who will also add value to the Five Points community.”
While Melody Market is closing, Sayer hopes other small neighborhood markets survive. Little Bodega, at 613 22nd Street, is set to open by spring; Sun Market opened in nearby Whittier, at 2201 North Lafayette Street, in July 2021; and Bread & Butter opened this month at 1160 26th Street in RiNo.
As a climate-change advocate, Sayer sees these small markets as a solution. “People don’t have to get in their cars. That’s why I opened [the market]. I want to be part of the solution. I believe that we need more of these neighborhood markets,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s just a wake-up call that people don’t value the same things.”
Melody Market will remain open as staff and inventory allow through January 27. Sayer says there are lots of healthy options and canned goods available, including popular items such as energy bars and items that didn’t sell as well, like dried fruit. “I have a lot of beet chips left,” she laughs.
Melody Market is located at 2590 North Washington Street and is open (as staff and inventory allow) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through January 27. For more information, visit melodymarketdenver.com.