By Ernest Gurulé
It’s a late Sunday morning in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood and the sound of the church bells rings through the trees announcing another mass. So far, traffic flow is light, but as the day goes on, it will grow. West 44th Avenue, long ago, was a mostly Italian immigrant neighborhood that has sprouted into a bustling east-west corridor with a potpourri of shops, offices and restaurants lining each side.
These days you can as easily get your muffler repaired on the avenue as you can dine al fresco any time of the day. Quiet today is a place that used to bustle on weekends with folks looking to not just do their laundry but also catch up with friends or read a book or the newspaper at the Sunnyside Laundromat.
But a late spring break-in shut the place down and changed all that. At least for now. Thieves, deciding the laundromat was easy pickings, said co-owner and Bryan Murillo, “pretty much stripped it clean.”
In April, the assailants “backed up their pick-up truck into the building,” taking whatever they could, an ATM being the big prize. “It looked like they put some chains around it and pulled it out.”
When Murillo showed up in the morning, he saw the crooks’ handywork. “A big hole in the wall.” The damage also put another big hole in Murillo’s and his partner’s plans.
He and Rita Tsalyuk had hoped to modernize and repurpose the laundromat, transforming it into a real 21st century venue. Had things proceeded on schedule, they envisioned a half laundromat and dry cleaner, half cannabis dispensary. Perhaps a strange marriage but one the pair thinks has possibilities.
At first blush, the duality of the planned venture might seem odd, but Murillo doesn’t and neither, he said, do the long loyal single-purpose laundromat customers. Reaction, at least from those who’ve shared their opinions with him and in public hearings, seemed positive.
“When I talked with some people,” Murillo said, “they loved the idea. Some even suggested that we allow people to smoke at the laundromat,” he chuckled.
Tsalyuk, while more than a bit upset about the break-in—it still gnaws at her—is keeping her head high about the plans to get the venture off the ground.
“Discouraged?” she asked. “Not me. We’re doing fine.”
What is bothering, she said, is the time it’s taking.
“It takes forever with the city of Denver,” Tsalyuk said.
A building permit taped to the window may reinforce Tsalyuk’s stance. Except for a single check-off and signature, the entire official permitting document remains essentially clean. Tsalyuk is not new to the cannabis industry.
The Ukrainian native, whose base is Denver, rolls off the locations of successful ventures, including cannabis dispensaries, that she owns in other states, including West Virginia and Michigan. None of the businesses she runs in other states, she said, have been the target of crime.
In order to hang the Murillo-Tsalyuk shingle in Sunnyside, the pair had to qualify for the city’s social equity program, for which Murillo qualified. For now, the 60-plus year-old building is the quintessential work in progress.
A quick peek through the stained windows that look out on 44th shows a skeletal interior waiting for “meat on the bones.”
Looking farther back, you can also see a few washers, circa early 21st century. The pair, a Northsider and Ukrainian entrepreneur, are looking to the future and the launch of a unique operation: Cannabis dispensary, laundromat and dry cleaning under a single roof.
An opening date remains uncertain. But when it happens, said Murillo, he’s planning a grand opening. Full service for duds and suds and a no-waiting, fully staffed cannabis dispensary.