Where: Union Station (LoDo)
Go For: Eclectic gifts, from quirky cards, coffee-table books, and pop art home decor to funky patterned socks and high-design kitchen gadgets.
5280 Pick: No need to leave home for a full-service bar; the Quench Bar10der: The Ultimate Cocktail Tool will have you (or your giftee) slinging drinks like the pros with 10 different mechanisms, including a knife, corkscrew, stirrer, zester, and strainer. $42
Brad Smithling puts his keen eye for design and years in the retail industry—you may have seen his work in History Colorado Center’s gift shop—to good use in his latest project, Cooper & Dash. The LoDo boutique, which opened its doors two weeks ago, boasts carefully curated walls of giftable goods that are meticulously sorted by category; simply let the can’t-miss graphic neon signs that tower over each section guide you.
A DIY kind of guy, Smithling’s handcrafted touches are sprinkled throughout the space (see: the paint sticks he used to create the window displays), and the Anthropologie-inspired look provides a fresh, clean atmosphere for perusing that makes it easy for the eye to navigate every nook and cranny. Look closely and you’ll even find a tribute to the store’s namesakes, Smithling’s two darling dachshunds, by the register: black and orange dachshund figurines for sale. No newcomer to the retail biz, Smithling already has plans for a gallery with regular exhibits from local artists, community-centered events, and future expansion to other Colorado towns and beyond. We caught up with the shopkeeper to talk about the first step of his plan for (retail) world domination.
5280: How would you describe what you sell at Cooper & Dash?
Brad Smithling: The items really represent today’s pop culture. We have a beer section, a drink section, a coffee and tea section, and what we call an “eat” section for food. We have an adventure section where we represent Denver bicycling; we have an outdoor section; and we have a travel section as well. The other half of our store represents today’s arts and entertainment. We have a section for music, architecture, photography, and art and design, and we have a lot of home decor. There are unique gifts you don’t see in a lot of other places, from gummy bear items to unicorns, gnomes, and a full table of Alice In Wonderland goods. We have a large selection of stationery and cards, too. If you’re a fan of literature, we even have Jane Austen toothpaste and tattoos. I’ve gone to several trade shows—the New York Gift Show, the Atlanta Art Gift Show, and then some shows in Las Vegas—to find our selection.
What were you up to before you opened the store?
I’ve been in Denver for 11 years. I moved here from Southern California and absolutely love it; I will not move back. For the last 15 years I was the executive vice president for a company that ran and operated stores across the country in zoos, aquariums, museums, and science centers. I was involved with all aspects of designing the stores, purchasing product, directing people to purchase product, the operational side, the service side, and working with our clients. The company I worked for in Denver partnered with the Denver Zoo and the History Colorado Center. I actually designed and had that store built out. We also used to work with Denver Botanic Gardens and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo down in Colorado Springs.
How does an item earn a spot on your shelves?
I really sat down and planned out what I want the product to represent—what themes, what stories I’m trying to sell. I went through and picked those stories from food and beverage, outdoor, and art and design. When I go to trade shows or look at catalogues, I’m looking for something that’s unique in design and whether or not it fits into those categories. It really creates discipline when it comes to purchasing, because in the gift world, there’s so much stuff out there and you can get overassorted and purchase way too much stuff. That results in a lot of orphan items, items that don’t belong.
Do you feature any exclusive or local brands or artists?
I’m working on that. Now that I’ve opened, I’m looking at local artists to see what types of things will fit within some of these sections. The quality has to be good, and the price point has to be good. I figure after I get established here, people will seek me out. An artist already came in the other day and asked if I would look at their art to possibly sell. An author down the street does a children’s book, and it’s all about a butterfly and a fly in Denver; they go all these places in Colorado. So I’m looking at that and already starting to get some people coming in.
What’s trending for the summer season?
In Denver, biking is so popular, so I’ve seen a lot of movement in that section. We have chain frames, and we’ve sold several of those. We have little bikes for your shelves and a coloring book on bikes as well. Again, being in Denver, the beer category is strong. We have a home decor section, and we’re seeing a lot of the modern contemporary look. It’s very popular. Copper is big right now. We have copper frames and votive holders. That’s the hottest trend I’m seeing.
Any recommendations for Father’s Day?
We just got some messenger bags in. There’s a backpack, a messenger bag, and then there’s this cool little small daypack. It’s lightweight, and you can sling it around and just have it as a nice, quick option. We have beer growlers, and people like those. We have a French press in our coffee section. It just depends on peoples’ fathers, what they’re interested in. There are some cool architectural piggy banks, or, if they like music, there are vinyl coasters that look like miniature records or a coffee mug that looks like a guitar amp.
Visit: Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 1441 Wazee St., 303-534-0382