Walking into Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace is like simultaneously stepping into the future and the past. It is a huge, industrial warehouse where more than 50 locally owned, socially conscious businesses operate. Homemade sausages hang from the ceiling and bricks of aged cheese are stacked high in a small grocery store straight out of the 1800s. An apothecary with barrels of dried teas and homemade soaps sits amid the concrete floors, exposed beams, and a mesh gated catwalk.
It’s the kind of place where a pastry chef and a fitness coach come together to sell low-sugar chocolate packed with antioxidants. Collaboration over competition. It’s not just a motto. It’s a business model everyone here subscribes to.
“Our original plan was to open a small beer hall in Stapleton and it was a series of fortuitous events that led us to this much bigger project,” said Bryant Palmer, chief storyteller. It’s a title he gave himself. He is really in charge of marketing, communications, and public relations. But, chief storyteller sounds like so much more fun and it captures the not-so-serious spirit of everyone here.
Holiday shoppers can find everything from locally made high-end clothing to affordable jewelry. A former aviation manufacturing plant, the Stanley now offers nearly 150,000 square feet of retail space, a community hanger for events big enough to fit several jets, and more than 22 acres of land where a park is in progress to provide another gathering place for neighbors.
“Twenty-one of the businesses are food related, and then there are retail shops, fitness entities, and service businesses,” Palmer said. He’s quick to emphasize, “So much food! So much good food, too!”
No one knows more about good food than David Lewis. He was just 32 years old when he began working as the executive pastry chef at Denver’s historic and world-renown Brown Palace Hotel. Gonzo Jimenez, an Argentinian hotel pastry chef, was working out of Manhattan, New Orleans, and Santiago, Chili when he joined Lewis last year to open Miette et Chocolate, a high-end French patisserie at the Stanley.
Jimenez and Lewis were partners in chocolate sculpture competitions across the U.S. before leaving their prestigious jobs to go out on their own here in Aurora.
“It’s really scary, but we got a lot of community support from the neighborhood and stuff. People want to support this,” said Lewis.
They will be joining other businesses to kick off the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving. His handmade confections range from delicate pastries, cakes, and cookies, all freshly baked, to chocolates that last up to four months.
“We’re trying to put together a [holiday] gift set with Mr. B’s,” said Lewis, who is working with the neighboring wine shop to “put together wine and chocolates… a combination so people can one-stop shop it.”
Working together is part of the business model. Lewis and Jimenez provide chocolate sauce for the mochas sold at the coffee shop; chocolate-covered coffee beans for the donut store; super dark chocolate sold at Endorphin, the gym and fitness center; and they source and toast coconut used for one of the artisan beers at the Cheluna Brewing Company, the first business to open its doors here.
Cheluna is the creation of Javi Koch, an emergency room physician who decided to combine his love of science with his love of beer. His story is not unique. The Stanley is the brainchild of Mark Shaker, a social worker who wanted “a group of like-minded businesses who do things differently: sustainability, thoughtfully, creatively, with way more than the bottom line in mind.”
He even created something called The Stanifesto. It outlines specific guidelines of how they do business. “We believe there’s no point in making a profit if you’re not also making a difference,” it states. They also believe “the best rules are simple and clear: Love your neighbor. Leave each place better than you found it. Be good and do good.”
The true.manifesto is a boutique that has its own mission statement right above the cash register. It talks about optimism, compassion, peace, and self-care.
“We are a holistic boutique, which means we sell clothing and home goods, but we also have the apothecary aspect of it, things for your hair and skin, focusing on beauty from the inside out,” said Amanda McCoo, the manager. Customers looking for something special can find it here. “Everything is unique. We only buy one size of everything, so when that’s done we move onto something else.” Items range from $6 keychains to $300 hand-crafted leather boots. You’ll also find hand-made pottery, jewelry, and other novelty items.
There are a lot of one-of-a-kind shops here. “We turned our life into a store,” said Jesse Manderson who, along with his wife Lyndsey, live a zero-waste, plant-based lifestyle. Six months ago they became one of a handful of people in North America to open an apothecary that generates no trash. At Zero Market, less waste doesn’t mean less choice. “We have almost 1,000 products, from items you can bulk refill to containers you can keep,” he said.
It looks like a store from the Old West. Wooden shelves hold old-fashioned, refillable glass jars. There are waist-high barrels filled with homemade soaps. Recyclable glass containers can be bought and used over and over again. In fact, they encourage people to reuse bottles by offering refill stations for everything from organic teas to jars and jars of homemade potions for your skin, your hair, even your teeth. There is organic, handmade toothpaste, deodorant, laundry soap—even environmentally friendly antifreeze oil. You can stock up on every type of oil imaginable—from coconut to castor.
After just a few months in business, Manderson said, “The response has been overwhelming, to the point where we’re now open seven days a week.”
Seriously. The Stanley is very different from most other businesses. Even their vending machine stands out. Instead of chips and candy bars, you’ll find gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, and locally-sourced snacks and meals. The glass-encased unit is filled with recyclable glass jars filled with things like Caribbean chips with chimichurri and mango salsa and cardboard containers with Korean beef stir fry or blue corn tamales with salsa verde.
It opened just one year ago, and this year will mark their second holiday season. They plan to celebrate with Christmas tree and Menorah lighting ceremonies. Santa plans to visit. And the first Saturday after Thanksgiving—the day marked nationwide as Small Business Saturday—will be turned into a giant festival with sales and events.
For Lewis and other shop owners, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that collaboration can and does pay off.
“It’s that whole community. It’s working with businesses you normally wouldn’t work with and everybody’s working toward the same goal, to run a successful business. It helps when other people are behind you. When everybody wants everybody to succeed, most likely you will,” he said.