By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– Some downtown Denver businesses have taken up a petition to limit what they say is unfair competition. In the wake of COVID, 30% of storefronts are empty downtown, much higher than the rest of the city.

(credit: CBS)

Colorado Artisan Center is one of the few survivors in Writer Square and owner Gabriela Salazar says she’s barely holding on.

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“I’ve lost a lot of sleep, I cry myself to sleep endless nights just thinking, ‘What am I going to do to keep my doors open? Should I sell my house?'” said Salazar.

Businesses like hers, which features the works of over 100 Colorado artists, are what make downtown Denver a top tourist attraction. But some of those brick-and-mortar stores say they need a break, and not just from COVID shutting their doors and riots boarding up windows, but arts and crafts fairs that pay a fraction of the price for the same prime real estate.

The businesses signed a petition asking the city to limit permits for Colorado Events, which sets up booths in nearby Skyline Park throughout the summer, taking sales, Salazar says, from year-round businesses like hers. Because it operates as a social welfare non-profit, it pays just $130 a day while Salazar says she and other downtown business owners pay thousands of dollars a month in rent and taxes.

“We’re not asking them to go away, just to limit permits.”

(credit: CBS)

Jill Lis with Denver’s Office of Special Events says the city wants to support all businesses.

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“Our heart breaks for (brick and mortar businesses) them and our heart breaks for the event community as well. Events have experienced many of the same types of restrictions,” said Lis.

She says the city is looking at ways to cross-promote businesses but isn’t ruling out limiting permits, “I think we’re going to be looking at all types of possibilities, I don’t think anything is off the table.”

Salazar says without help, many more businesses will close, “It’s not fair competition. We pay thousands while they pay a minimal fee for a booth or table.”

(credit: Colorado Events)

The owner of Colorado Events insists his fairs aren’t hurting downtown businesses. He says the brick-and-mortar industry is just dying. He says he operates as a social welfare non-profit because his fairs benefit and improve the community.

Downtown Denver Partnership released a statement saying it supports a “diverse mix of retailers” and that it has permitted Colorado Events to be on the 16th Street Mall for just three weekends this year based on feedback from property owners.

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The petition asks the city to limit Colorado Events to arts and crafts fairs once every five weeks.

Shaun Boyd