An artist’s rendering of the Trader Joe’s store planned on the site of the former Applebee’s at Twenty Ninth Street in Boulder.
An artist's rendering of the Trader Joe's store planned on the site of the former Applebee's at Twenty Ninth Street in Boulder.

Boulder may have been the first to land Trader Joe's, but Denver appears to have pulled ahead in efforts to lay claim to the specialty grocer's first store to open in Colorado.

Construction workers this week broke ground on the Trader Joe's store off East Eight Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver, said Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for the Monrovia, Calif.-based chain that has won a rabid following for its unique products and discount "Two-Buck Chuck" wines.

The 18,000-square-foot Denver grocery store and adjoining liquor outlet -- per Colorado law, Trader Joe's only can sell wine, beer and spirits at one of its locations -- has a tentative opening slated for the fourth quarter of 2013, Mochizuki said.

Thirty miles to the northwest, a brick building that once housed an Applebee's restaurant still stands at 1906 28th St., the Twenty Ninth Street mall lot where the Boulder Trader Joe's will be located. The restaurant has sat empty since closing last May to make way for the new grocer.

"I would expect that building to come down shortly," said J.T. Fulton, property manager for the Twenty Ninth Street retail center. "We're still targeting a fall opening."

Kate Honea, Twenty Ninth Street's marketing manager, said the timeline remains on track for Trader Joe's to open in Boulder in October.

Mochizuki, of Trader Joe's, was less specific when reached Friday. The Boulder location is "scheduled to open this year," she said, noting she was unable to provide additional updates.

In May, Denver developer Jimmy Balafas said he was pushing for that city's store to open its doors first.

"The city of Denver wants to be the first to open," Balafas said at the time. "I hope we beat Boulder. I think we have a shot."

'Excited about them opening in Boulder'

If Denver does end up landing the first Trader Joe's to open in Colorado, the move will not negatively affect the Boulder location, Twenty Ninth Street's Fulton said.

"In terms of who brought Trader Joe's to Colorado, it was (Twenty Ninth Street owner) Macerich, and we're just fine with that," Fulton said. "We're more excited about them opening in Boulder than (beating Denver to the punch)."

Fulton said the former Applebee's building could be razed within the coming weeks. A demolition permit should be pulled after some utility work, notably the moving of a gas line, takes place, he said.

"It's a pretty quick process," Fulton said of the utility work.

Trader Joe's officials are in the final stages of the city of Boulder's technical document process, said Charles Ferro, land use review manager. Once that element is finalized, Trader Joe's can move into the building permit application phase, an approval process that could take up to 40 days, he said.

"They're inching very close to their TEC doc approval," Ferro said.

Getting Twenty Ninth Street ready

The arrival of Trader Joe's has been heralded by many in the Boulder region, from residents who have petitioned for the California grocer to come to Colorado to municipal leaders and industry officials who have said the store could become a regional draw and a boon to city coffers.

As new arrivals such as Trader Joe's and fast-fashion clothier H&M move forward on stores at Twenty Ninth Street, mall officials say they're investing a "substantial" amount of money to improve vehicle traffic within the center and direct parking to the underground parking lot. These efforts include re-signing the entire property and converting a "no-name street" -- between Burger King and B.J.'s Restaurant and Brewhouse -- into an official opening, Fulton said.

"We're limited in what we can do (in adding parking on the surface lots)," he said. "I think a big portion of that is getting folks educated and directing them to underground parking to mitigate surface parking."

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com.