Free Market is not your average Denver marketplace. Though each of the city’s market concepts have their own personality and atmosphere, Free Market distinguishes itself with simplistic but elevated decor, high-end yet affordable shops, and a partnership with one of Denver’s most renowned chefs. Located above the newly-opened Run for the Roses and sharing a block and alley with the popular Milk Market, Free Market focuses on all things hospitality to make visitors feel at home from their first step inside the door.
Co-founder Raan Parton used many phrases to describe Free Market, comparing it to a small-scale department store, a traditional trade show and a bazaar – which might be the perfect word. In its location within the Dairy Block, Free Market’s atmosphere is inviting with simple decor and natural light that pours in from the surrounding windows. Guests enter from multiple entrances, and might not see the whole market on their first visit. Every space is utilized to optimize opportunities for additional enterprises or pop-ups. Parton commented that Free Market has an element of “surprise and delight.”
Hidden in the back is the chatty Rosemont Barbershop, around another corner is a Wedfuly outpost selling blooms from local florists. The Museum of Contemporary Art is taking over a wall to rotate exhibitions with the museum’s featured artist. BØH is a coffee bar that acts as a test kitchen for both chefs and aspiring home cooks. They’ll offer anything from wine tasting classes to making your own soba noodles in the space adjacent to the café, where they’ll also mill flour for their ancient grain-focused restaurant, BRUTØ. Back-to-back benches can pull out into picnic tables to transform the space for a more formal dining space for Kelly Whitaker’s counter service food bar. Set to open in June, he’ll serve world breads, California heirloom rice and other heritage grain centered dishes, all cooked in a wood-fired oven.
For the retail side, Parton selected brands that he considers “best-in-class” in each of their particular categories. These stores include AYR, Jenni Kayne, Clare V., Beautycounter, Aesop and Parton’s own brand Alchemy Works – all of which did not have a presence in Colorado previous to this project. “[These stores are] not afraid of off-the-beaten-path, and they have their own specific followings,” Parton explained. So he created a unique, risk-free opportunity for the brands to expand their customer base. Rather than charging them rent, Free Market takes 10% of sales. “We want everyone to succeed, so we’re very intimately in-tune with what everyone is doing,” he added.
In descaling the size of the downtown building and giving stores smaller footprints, Parton wanted a sense of comfort and simplicity in the space. With so many hidden corners, walking around the space makes it feel big even though it’s only 12,000 square feet. He wants Free Market to be a place where people can come back day after day, without feeling they are overstaying their welcome. Prices range from under $20 to a higher-end luxury price point, so every visitor has an entry point and no one is excluded or discouraged from entering the market.
Parton based Free Market’s entire concept on the idea of hospitality. Though the space itself feels relaxed and laid-back, he explained everything is “theatrical” and “production-driven.” He and Whitaker plan to periodically have a trolley with someone serving prosecco and oysters on the half shell around the marketplace. “It’s pretty easy to make people feel taken care of, and I think if you can take a little bit of extra intention when like they will feel loved and they’ll come back,” Parton commented. They also will regularly host various programming events, including cooking and wine classes as well as a weekly Wellness Wednesday opportunity at Jenni Kayne – an ever-changing rotation of all things wellness, plus a pet adoption event coming on June 8.
After the soft opening, Free Market has already attracted a wide range of visitors and a number of regulars. There are a lot of characters [in Denver],” Parton said. “Hopefully we can bring them all under one roof.” Free Market truly is a space for both the elegant and the bazaar, a place where the two blend seamlessly to create an inviting atmosphere for anyone and at any time of the day.
Free Market is open every day of the week from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and is located at 1901 Blake Street, Denver. BØH is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. BRUTØ is slated to open in June.
All photography by Evans Ousley, unless otherwise noted.