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Mario Nocifera, whose background includes working at restaurants like Frasca Food and Wine and co-owning the now-shuttered Lower 48 Kitchen, didn’t exactly plan on opening a retail business in the middle of a global pandemic. But here he is, smiling on the street level of Onward Community Collective, the two-story boutique/art gallery/event space he opened last month.
“This dropped into my lap,” Nocifera says. “My whole purpose in taking such a risk is to engage with my community and form new community. Keeping artists creative, keeping makers making, and chefs cooking. Everybody is so confined right now, and I want to do my part to bring people together in a safe place to be humans again.”
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When COVID hit, Nocifera was working on a consulting project in Texas. He returned home to Denver craving the connection that the pandemic took away. In late May, he learned about the available two-level space at 2719 Larimer Street, a former artist’s studio, and knew immediately that he wanted it. There he could create opportunities for artists to show and sell their work, as well as establish a place where people could get together again in a safe, intentional way. A couple of weeks later, Onward was open.
The main level of the building functions as an eclectic boutique, where everything—from the furniture to the clothing to the art on the walls—is for sale. Upstairs, an art gallery hosts rotating exhibits, starting with Human curated by Alycia Ann and Scott Young, which features works by 20 artists who explore the definitions of being human right now. It will run through Labor Day.
While both levels of the indoor space are ridiculously cool, it’s the back patio that makes Onward especially appealing for small gatherings. The shaded courtyard holds up to 44 people for what Nocifera calls “very small, curated, intentional events.” And because any good event needs good food, Onward will host food trucks out back and has partnered with chef Adam Vero (formerly the executive chef at Hearth & Dram) to dream up unique dinner experiences. To cultivate community and fully utilize Vero’s culinary talents, Nocifera is planning outdoor dinner parties with a purpose, like the recent Breaking Bread to Break Our Bias event, where inspiring conversation is served alongside meals.
It all seems to be working. Two young women burst into Onward for the first time and start gushing about the boutique. “I’m in love,” one says. “It’s love at first sight.”
Nocifera smiles and tells them to make themselves at home.
Onward Community Collective is open daily, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; send a message via Facebook or Instagram (@onward2719) to arrange a private viewing of the art gallery. 2719 Larimer St.