Historic Preservation Month tribute to Denver's version of 7-11: Kenny Be's Special Report

Big Top Convenience Store Ad from 1959 Denver Post.jpg
1962 Big Top convenience store advertisement that ran in the Denver Post.

The ad shown above was found on agilitynut.com, a Debra Jane Setzer website devoted to vanishing American roadside design that includes noteworthy Denver attractions. When published, the Big Top convenience store advertisement listed eight locations. A message on Groceriteria.com suggests that the local chain grew to sixteen stores. Only five of the iconic buildings remain...

Westwood Big Top Convenience Store Kellogg Sayre Kenny Be Westword Blog.jpg
Westwood Big Top is a fashionable mannequin hangout.

Pictured above, the original Big Top convenience store location still stands at 845 South Federal Blvd., in the Westwood neighborhood. Originally known as Auto Mart, the store was opened by Denver investors who were inspired by a Texas-based convenience store chain that went by the name of 7-11.

Designed by the Denver architecture firm of Kellogg & Sayre, the store was renamed Big Top in 1958 to correspond with the building's circus-tent appearance. Three Big Tops were built in 1959 but had trouble getting slow-paced Denver shoppers to accept the higher price of quicker service.

Below, a November 2, 1959 Vendor Billboard magazine article reveals Big Top's business model...

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We used to go to the Aurora Big Top in 1960 when I was 6 years old. I have always had a fascination with this convenience store chain,  with the unique "Googie" design, and it being one of the first convenience store chains in Colorado. I have been mapping the location of all of the Big Top stores in the metro area for the last ten years.  There are at least four or five more that you did not mention in your article.  There was a column in the RMN years ago that I believe was called "The Answer Guy."  I posed the question to him about "Who started the chain of Big Top Stores in the Denver Metro Area, and were there other locations in Colorado or the US?"  He had no idea what I was even talking about.  I have a matchbook from the Big Top stores circa 1961. We also used to go to the Mid Century Modern "Fanfare" store on South Havana around the same era.  Back then it was surrounded by acres of undeveloped land, and looked like some type of NASA moon base with the wild bubble architecture. It still has the wonderful Picasso cubist style artwork on the entrance that should be removed and preserved, preferably near the Denver Art Museum. It would go hand in hand with the DAM's Daniel Libskind designed museum.  Sadly, it is not appreciated by the mall people of Aurora, who would much prefer that it be razed and replaced with a Super "White Trash" Walmart. And the "Mallification" of America continues...

J Brian Martinez
J Brian Martinez

Thanks for a great post.  I've driven past these buildings for years and never knew their origins. I hadn't realized the one on Belleview was replaced by a Walgreens a couple of years ago.  You can still barely see it in one photo on Google Street View, in the background: http://maps.google.com/maps?ie... 


the bellview one was a breeze ski rental untill just a few years back

Kenny Be
Kenny Be

Great find, J Brian! I have discovered in all of my research using Google maps that the changes between frames can seasons and years. Your link also proves that Walgreens stores are popping up as quick as the click of a mouse! 

The South Broadway Big Top building also appears on Google Earth, but a drive by of the location on Friday, May 20, 2011 confirmed that it had been replaced by a Volkswagen dealership.

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