The Colorado coffeehouse chain ink! became a lightning rod for economic ire on Wednesday, after one of its Denver stores displayed a message on its sidewalk sandwich-board that read: “Happily Gentrifying The Neighborhood Since 2014.”

On the back, the sign said: “Nothing Says Gentrification Like Being Able To Order A Cortado.”

Photos spread on social media, sparking outrage. While ink! has 15 locations in Denver, the store in question is located in the Five Points neighborhood, an area traditionally known as a home for artists and people of color that has been steadily becoming more white and middle-to-upper-class, due to gentrification.

Another Opinion: It was only a few years ago that Five Points was known as the area to avoid. Good thing folks didn’t take that advice, because this neighborhood is now one of the hippest parts of town. But just because a ton of new businesses have moved in and redevelopment efforts are in full force doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen here. Use the buddy system, keep an eye out, and you’ll probably be alright.
The 10 Most Dangerous Denver Neighborhoods in 2015 – Five Points was #6

By Wednesday afternoon, the ink! store had closed, citing the Thanksgiving holiday. A small crowd of people were nonetheless in attendance, hoping to find answers.

“At first I thought, ‘No way that’s real,’” said Ru Johnson, an event producer who works in the hip-hop industry. “And when I found out it was I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ To make wanton jokes about gentrification is just totally uncalled for and disrespectful to the people who still live here.

“This city, and particularly this neighborhood, was made cool by the artists. Before that, this wasn’t a place that people could hang out, and certainly not a place where a coffeeshop chain would move in.”

Musa Bailey is co-owner of the hip-hop club Cold Crush, which was a few blocks away from ink! until a few weeks ago when its lease expired.

“Gentrification has totally affected me,” Bailey said. “It made it harder for us to operate our business. The rent is too expensive in this neighborhood. This historically was the neighborhood where graffiti artists would practice. [The ink! sign] is saying that gentrification is a joke.

“I came down here to talk to someone, but there’s no one here to talk to. I saw it on my Facebook this morning and wondered if it was for real, if it was photoshopped. I don’t think anyone found it funny, or knew what the point of it was.”

Katie Leonard, a Denver native just returned after graduating from Harvard with a degree in African-American studies, said the sign “really felt like a fork in my side. This is a historically black neighborhood. Five Points was known as the Harlem of the West.

“Coming home after four years of being in college, it’s unreal to see the changes that have happened in a short time.”

ink! did not respond to requests for comment but the company did post a statement on its Facebook page. It read: “Hmmm. We clearly drank too much of our own product and lost sight of what makes our community great.

“We sincerely apologize for our street sign. Our (bad) joke was never meant to offend our vibrant and diverse community. We should know better. We hope you will forgive us.”

In recent years the location of the ink! shop has been renamed RiNo (River North Arts District). The neighborhood was once known for rundown warehouses that were home to art collectives like Glob, Rhinoceropolis and Monkey Mania. Steady economic growth has forced much of the arts community out of their venues and studios and, in many cases, their homes.

Efforts by the city to remake the area to appeal to more mainstream audiences have only fueled anger in Denver’s DIY artist community.

“For a company to think ‘happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014’ is funny clearly means it has decided who is welcome in its establishment – white people,” said Bree Davies, a community organizer working on housing issues.

“This is a coffee shop that took a marketing opportunity to brag about displacement. The sign was not taken as a joke because it felt intentionally dismissive in an area of Denver where neighborhoods are being re-named and land is being sold out from under long-time residents.”

On Wednesday night the ink! Facebook page had disabled its reviews section, but at 5pm 9News reported that its rating fell to 1.6 stars after hundreds of one-star reviews were posted. The Yelp page for the Five Points location was down to 1.5 stars. Other locations showed three or four.

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