One tough thing about moving to a new city is the fact that you have to rediscover everything. All your favorite settings are…reset. You need a new favorite coffee shop, a new favorite bridge, a new favorite sunset spot, etc. The tricky thing is to know whom to ask.
And so as a new Denverite, the logical step for me was to start my hunt for new favorites in my new community.
Everybody has a story. Everyone you meet is the hero, the epicenter of an epic adventure. You only need to ask and they generally will tell you that story.
This is the story of Brian Cappel and Ricky Langdon, the founders of Community Service Apparel (also known as COMSERV), a street lifestyle and art boutique in the heart of Englewood, CO.
I wandered into the little store a few days after I arrived in Denver. It is conveniently located near a post office on Broadway Blvd, one of the main arteries of the Mile High city. I thought the name was interesting, and upon discussing it with Brian, I learned that it was deliberately chosen as play on words with the famous mandatory non-paying job.
Community Service Apparel is an urban clothing store, a skate shop and a street art supplies store. A 3-in-1 open door for all the urban culture in Englewood, it strives to be part of the community as well as serving it. It’s a cultural hub for local art and music with a community event on the last Friday of every month.
Conceived from an idea by two former Zumies employees, it opened in December 2010, and started by selling spray paint and clothing. The objective was to separate themselves from the chains and mall stores where everything is the same at a different price, and to take risks by specializing in the more respected street brands, selling limited supply of beautifully designed street apparel.
The community aspect is really a strong part of the COMSERV identity (as they like to refer to the store).
From the beginning, the owners Brian and Ricky wanted to make it a place where the local street artists felt comfortable sharing and expressing themselves. They also wanted it to be a place where people that are not really part of the urban scene could learn about it. Kind of like a teaching center.
Every two weeks on average, a street/mural artist comes for a sort of “residency” and creates an original piece on the back wall of the store. These pieces take time, and the curious are encouraged to come meet the artist during that creation time. They sometimes have multiple artists working at the same time on different sections of the store and the neighborhood gathering events, appropriately called Final Fridays, are a good way to meet and discuss the pieces with the artists.
COMSERV have succeeded in being a place that caters to a part of street culture that is generally seen as trouble by the a majority of people. Skateboarding is prohibited in so many places that the signs “No skateboarding allowed” and “Skateboarding is not a crime” have now become part of American culture. The same goes for murals and graffiti artists, who until the recent years would not have thought of the possibility of getting hired by their city officials to embellish a wall or a building.
In the country with the most incarcerations in the world, Community Service is sometimes a softer consequence to breaking the law. As Brian explained, most of the urban artists community have had some kind of run in with the law at some point. This store is their attempt to contribute in a healthy way to both the urban crowd and the community they’re a part of. It’s their Community Service.
As with all shifts in societies, it is admirable to see the newer generations embracing the beauty and art in street culture, and making it accessible to everyone else.
From heavily sponsored competitions like the X-Games happening in Aspen, CO. every year, to the impressive art pieces by local artists like Thomas Evans (a.k.a Detour303) or Justin Nimrod (a.k.a Think426), urban art has now become a integral part of our generation’s “normalcy”.
But for all the good parts about COMSERV, there was an equal amount of struggle and hardship. Ricky mentioned the times he almost gave up throughout the years, the times Brian and him thought they were going to have to chalk up COMSERV as, quote, “One thing I could say I tried”.
Since its inception in 2010, the store has been the target of six burglaries and another four attempted burglaries. It also has been under legal pressure by a lawsuit from ZUMIES and this is all accounting the big and small financial sacrifices that come with being small business owners. It wasn’t all roses.
But Brian and Ricky want to focus on the good.
A few years after they started, came a time where they were getting overwhelmed. They decided to join hands with a couple other business owners to make a bigger story out of COMSERV.
“The Cypher Shop”, helmed by EAST, a street artist who’s had his hands around spray paint for more than 35 years, is the urban art supplies part of the store. He’ll gladly let you know anything you need to know about the graffiti scene and the things you need to be successful at it.
The more discreet Joel McGinnis is in charge of the skate shop. He will gladly share the best skate spots in the area; discuss the local scene and skaters, all while outfitting your new board with the best bearings and wheels.
The three stores work independently (or at least as much as possible with a shared space) but their owners are on the same team.
They ultimately want any customer that comes into COMSERV to leave knowing something about the other sides of the urban culture. Their customer service approach is to know you as an individual, build a relationship.
As Ricky puts it: “We want to know the people that come in here, be able to greet them by name, and we offer a very personalized shopping experience.” That means explaining to you why certain brands are more respected in the street apparel world, why this or that design is big this year and helping you get a more refined taste in street wear.
I witnessed this community approach when I visited the store on one of the Last Fridays gatherings for the community.
While artist Think426 was painting a new mural on the outside wall of the store, chatting with a few people and being observed by a few others, the inside of the store was full of laughter and discussion. Joel was offering people a brew from his decked out cooler, and I started a conversation with a couple of people. One of them turned out to be the mayor of Englewood, Joe Jefferson, out with some of his friends. He wanted me to know that "these guys are good people, they really contribute to the community".
These Final Fridays gatherings started small, but grew up really fast. They started bringing in DJs, inviting the community and overall offering a friendly face. Brian remembers one of his favorite times when they had rap legends “De La Soul” freestyling at the event, and then happily mingling with their fans in the store.
Community Service Apparel is open every day and if you happen to be in the Denver area, it’s a place where you will meet friendly people, eager to tell you about the urban culture and lifestyle. Final Fridays is now part of my monthly calendar and I am glad to have met them.