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Ink! Coffee Becomes Lightning Rod for Gentrification Scandal

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A second protest against the business is slated for this morning

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INK! RiNo
Ink! Coffee’s red facade was painted over last week in graffiti after an advertising campaign — “Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood Since 2014” — sparked national controversy
Adam Larkey

By 6 a.m. Monday, Curtis Park and Five Points community members and supporters are expected to gather once again outside Ink! Coffee on Larimer Street to protest the coffee shop’s ill-received joke about gentrification.

This is the second protest in as many days against the three-year-old coffee shop that made international headlines over the holiday weekend. Ink! made a marketing joke of gentrification inside its historically black neighborhood, with signage reading, “Happily Gentrifying The Neighborhood Since 2014.” Now protestors, including the NAACP Denver chapter, will ask customers of Ink! to take their business elsewhere.

“With racial tensions growing out of control in our nation, it is sad that newcomers to communities that were once predominately people of color are insensitive to the history, as well as the families who reside there,” reads the Facebook event page for NAACP’s Monday protest against Ink!. “Please help the community to put an end to Ink Coffee by asking those who patron there to find alternative places to purchase their cup of joe.”

A cup of coffee became the lightening rod for racial and class tensions in this Denver community on Wednesday when Aspen-based Ink!, a relative newcomer to the district now known as RiNo, set up a sandwich board outside its 16th store location. “Happily Gentrifying The Neighborhood Since 2014” was on the front, and continued on the back, reading: “Nothing Says Gentrification Like Being Able To Order A Cortado.”

The sign has since been removed, and the company has attempted apologies, starting with a quick sequence over Twitter that began with the word “Hmmm” followed by a light joke. The message then ended on a more humble and serious note: “We should know better.”

Following the backlash on social media, Ink! Coffee’s building was vandalized and painted in graffiti Thanksgiving Eve with the words “White Coffee” underneath the shop’s slogan, “Coffee. Above All Else.” In response, Ink! and its advertising firm Cultivator both issued separate Thanksgiving Day statements on Facebook.

For its part, Cultivator says the gentrification campaign “intended to offer a cynical perspective on the rapid development of our RiNo District neighborhood.” And Ink! founder Keith Herbert wrote: “When our advertising firm presented this campaign to us, I interpreted it as taking pride in being part of a dynamic, evolving community that is inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities.” Both parties then admitted wrongdoing and echoed apologies. “I recognize now that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize – absolutely and unequivocally,” Herbert added.

The question now is how this business and others — citizens and lawmakers — will respond to continued concern regarding increasingly inaccessible Denver neighborhoods. Around 200 demonstrators gathered Saturday in front of the still-closed Ink! Coffee. Protest organizer Tay Anderson told the crowd that he and other community members from across Denver will be forming a coalition “to make sure we are putting a curb to gentrification within our entire city.” Since Saturday, the conversation has started to shift from angered initial reactions to lamentations over a lost community and much larger, city-wide questions.

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