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Changing Capitol Hill closes out Hubcap Annie

By Colleen O'Connor
The Denver Post
Posted:   08/01/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT13 Comments | Updated:   4 years ago

 

Hubcap Annie Jay Drummond, left, and Jimmy Rudy fence in the closed Hub Cap Annie, 410 E. Colfax Ave., Thursday. A tough economy forced the owner to shed the shop's physical location and offer services only online and by phone.

Hub Cap Annie ain't what she used to be.

Transformed by economic pressures and changing neighborhoods, the legendary hubcap shop and museum, started in 1982 by the "Diva of Chrome" Jane Withers, has gone online and by phone only.

"The nature of the business has changed," said Jim Chappell, who bought the franchise from Withers in 2008 and moved it west from Colfax Avenue near Jasmine Street to a now-shuttered Capitol Hill storefront at 410 E. Colfax Ave. "Everyone struggling to make it work. But our overhead was $6,000. We just couldn't do it."

Many people thought that a tough economy might boost business at Hub Cap Annie. After all, people were repairing rather than buying new.

"But the truth is, if you're a single mom who needs gas, a gallon of milk and a hubcap, and have money for only two out of three, what are you going to leave off?" Chappell said.

After nearly three decades in business, Hub Cap Annie had become an iconic institution. Large windows sported tricked-out chrome hubcaps, the stuff of collectors' dreams, such as the 1950 Cadillac hubcap, which looked like a sombrero.

Chappell had high hopes for his new neighborhood. He thought Hub Cap Annie and her collection of vintage wares would be a good fit for hipster Capitol Hill. Plus, the shop was closer to west-side customers.

But the block broke him.

"That block was very rough," he said. "Lots of homeless people, broken windows. It was very difficult because a lot of people didn't want to come there."

The shop closed in February. Last week, the building's property managers put up fences to keep people from roosting in the doorways.

The Colfax Business Improvement District installed 12 police monitoring cameras on Colfax between Grant and Josephine streets, said economic-development director Stephanie Sala zar. Business owners have already noticed a reduction in loitering and crime, she said.

Salazar said entrepreneurial types have been scouting the area, hoping to start art galleries or clothing shops.

Capitol Hill residents have expressed interest in more shops, a local market or upscale restaurants, she said.

"We want to keep this as an iconic entrepreneurial district," Salazar said.

As for Chappell, he has downsized his inventory of 19,000 hubcaps.

"I got rid of a lot of the old stuff," he said. "I didn't need 23 '68 Chevy Impala hubcaps. Three would do."

His sales are mostly hubcaps for contemporary cars, and 60 percent are for Toyotas.

These days, people call him to find the hubcap they want. He checks his warehouse, and if he doesn't have it, he calls a supplier who does. The buyer then drives to his Denver warehouse, and he pops on the hubcap.

"It's a change," he said. "But it seems to be working pretty well."

Colleen O'Connor: 303-954-1083 or coconnor@denverpost.com