Free Market, a collective of evolving brands, events and experiences tailored to the community, has opened an 11,000-square-foot flagship in downtown Denver’s Dairy Block micro-district. The store is part of an ambitious rollout that will include a 27,000-square-foot Free Market bowing later this year at Playa Vista Runway in Los Angeles.
“We’re always going to be tweaking it, but it’s surpassed our expectations on opening weekend, May 18-19,” said cofounder Raan Parton. “The brands are very excited about their sales just out of the gate. All of the stores surpassed the sales of their other flagships. Jenni Kayne is on track to do $600 to $700 per square foot.”
Besides Kayne, other brands include AYR, Aesop, Westerlind, Claire V., Beautycounter, Rosemont Barber Shop, Fortuna Chocolate and Alchemy Works, which sells apothecary products, jewelry, leather goods and found items that appeal to Raand and his wife, Lindsay Parton, who launched the store in 2013.
The Partons installed Warby Parker in the space next door to Free Market. The eyewear brand operates shop-in-shops at the two original Alchemy Works locations, in the Los Angeles Arts District and Newport Beach, Calif. The Maven Hotel occupies another of the Dairy Block’s historic properties.
James Beard semifinalist Kelly Whitaker is behind Free Market’s Brutø restaurant and BØH coffee shop. “The food is incredibly important,” Parton said. “It makes you feel like you’re a guest and not in a commercial retail setting. It can be awkward to go into a store twice a month or more. If there’s a restaurant, you can go in many times and it’s more like a hospitality experience. It breaks down the barriers and makes the store warmer and more inviting.
“We’re having food and beverage permeate the space,” Parton said, adding that a customer at Jenni Kayne could order a glass of Prosecco and have it delivered to her dressing room. “We have a little oyster cart we send around. The restaurant is very theatrical with a big wood-fired oven. We feel really good about those elements.”
Free Market is organizing events, such as a weekly aperitivo, to bring like-minded creatives together and Parton said the space will host a party for the Slow Food Nations festival, June 9 to 12.
Parton said Free Market charges brands 10 percent of monthly sales with no added fees. “Traditional department stores are hard to work with,” he said. “They have held our industry hostage. We want to support the brands, so we’re trying to act more like a chamber of commerce. These brands are all new to Denver.”
With investments from DJM Capital and REIT Invesco, “we’ll have more capital to invest into the L.A. space,” Parton said. “The Denver brands are pretty covered in L.A. We’ll have them, but not to the extent that we do in Denver. We’re looking for L.A. brands with strong female founders and are prioritizing digital native brands that want to prototype [new concepts].”
Given the size of the L.A. market, Parton said, “There’s going to be 10 times more stuff going on. The spaces will be like little showrooms. The more we can focus on our design partnerships, the more authentically residential it will feel.”