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A store decked out in bright, neon-colored signs saw a flow of customers in and out of the doors that would make you think it was in the throes of a grand opening.
But the doors at Compleat Lifestyles, a shop that offers gifts, kitchen wares and other home goods, are soon closing. The store, which has stood in different forms at its location on South University Boulevard near East Dry Creek Road for nearly 30 years, was up for a lease renewal but lost the lease. Its closing sale started in mid-November, and it will close Dec. 31 or when it runs out of merchandise, whichever comes first.
“The number-one thing people say is how sad they are,” said Connie Stevinson, who has owned the store for the last six years. Stevinson, a Centennial resident, hears from “people who have been coming since the store was across the street.”
Stevinson bought the store from its previous owners, Joan Dennen and Barb Trexler, who opened the store's first location — then named The Compleat Gourmet, using an archaic spelling of “complete” — in 1984 in a strip mall just south of Arapahoe High School. In 1989, it took a new name, Compleat Gourmet and Gifts, and moved across the street. It currently sits at 7592 S. University Blvd.
Decades later, Compleat Lifestyles has built up a loyal customer base. On Nov. 28, dozens of shoppers and a steady flow in and out of the store underscored that — friendly chatter fluttered through the store as artificial Christmas trees stood for sale. The slow sway of holiday music wafted through the shop, where people looked at products in every aisle and nook.
Jane Gusmus, a Centennial resident of 15 years, went in to shop amid the crowd that afternoon.
“I hate to see it (close),” said Gusmus, who shopped at Compleat more than five times per year on average and first came there at least a decade ago. “Because this was a go-to store of mine, for gifts and just things we need.”
Over the years, Gusmus bought hostess gifts, thank-you gifts, holiday gifts and “gifts for me,” she said with a laugh.
“I really hate seeing local owners leave,” Gusmus said. “I really like to support them — it's really unfortunate.”
Stevinson, who was a certified public accountant and chief financial officer in the Denver-area health-care field before buying Compleat from its two founders who wanted to retire, started down the path to owning the store when she took a “life-changing” trip in 2009, she said.
“I actually had been to Rwanda and was asked by a women's collective to find a new outlet for (its) handicrafts, and I started wholesaling them,” Stevinson said. The group, Gahaya Links, started after the 1994 Rwandan genocide to economically empower women who were left as widows, single mothers or orphaned girls, according to its website. It makes traditionally woven baskets and jewelry.
“At the time I met them, they had been selling Rwandan baskets to Macy's,” Stevinson said.
People in the group learned Stevinson worked in business, and she started selling the handicrafts at gift shows in New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Denver.
That's how she met Dennen and Trexler, who eventually took on the products in their store on consignment.
“I still sell them today,” Stevinson said.
Compleat's closing is one more example of a changing retail landscape in Stevinson's eyes. Big-box stores and Amazon will be what customers are eventually left with, she said.
“It's important for the public to understand that if (you) can buy something locally from a local business, (you're) supporting" your city with sales tax revenue and supporting your community, Stevinson said. She lamented the trend of people coming into physical stores and looking at a product in person, then viewing it on their phones to buy it online. “People want to have their cake and eat it too.”
The lease ends Dec. 31, and Compleat lost the lease because its Denver-area property owners have other plans for the space, Stevinson said.
“They said they would announce the plan at a later date,” she added.
As a business person, she's not bitter about the change, though, and she plans to consider other locations where she could reopen the store in the metro area. She won't rule out a reopening, but there's no guarantee.
“It's an expensive landlord market right now,” Stevinson said.
Stevinson was a longtime shopper at Compleat herself before owning the store. And judging by the customers, demand for a new store won't be in short supply. Gusmus planned to take advantage of the sale again.
“I'll be back,” Gusmus said.
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