A Colorado coffeehouse drew local protest and national criticism for a displaying a sign with an ill-received joke about gentrification.
Colorado coffee chain ink! Coffee placed a sandwich board with the words "Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014" on the sidewalk in front of one of its Denver cafes.
"My first reaction was, 'Is this real?' because it's just so mind blowing," said Ru Johnson, a local writer who has contributed The Denver Post. "Their sign was almost like a poke in the eye for the people who have worked to make the community what it is, and a lot of those people have been pushed out. Who created this sign, sent it to manufacture and put in outside your business?"
Johnson saw an image of the sign on Facebook on Nov. 22 and shared it on Twitter to draw wider attention to it. She said that "we are not cool" with the sign and that it was "bad image" and "bad design."
Johnson also sent an image of the opposite side of the sign to The Denver Post. It read: "Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado."
The coffee shop is in Five Points, a historically black neighborhood that has seen an influx of new development since it was designated as the River North Arts District, known locally as RiNo.
The NAACP emailed ink! to request the sign be removed immediately. The sign was reportedly stolen by a skateboarder and was gone the next day.
The coffee chain issued an apology the same day the image of the sign began to circulate on Twitter.
"Hmmm. We clearly drank too much of our own product and lost sight of what makes our community great," the company posted on Facebook and Twitter. "We sincerely apologize for our street sign. Our (bad) joke was never meant to offend our vibrant and diverse community. We should know better. We hope you will forgive us."
Since then, the sign has made international headlines and has inspired two protests, Eater reports. On Nov. 23, the storefront was painted with the words "White Coffee."
The company's advertising firm, Cultivator, released a statement on Nov. 24, saying the campaign "intended to offer a cynical perspective on the rapid development of our RiNo District neighborhood."
Keith Herbert, the founder of ink!, apologized along with Cultivator.
"When our advertising firm presented this campaign to us, I interpreted it as taking pride in being part of a dynamic, evolving community that is inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities," Herbert said. "I recognize now that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize -- absolutely and unequivocally."
The location, which remains closed, has sparked a larger debate in the community about the gentrification of the RiNo district and other areas.
On Nov. 25, protest organizer Tay Anderson said he and other citizens of Denver would band together "to make sure we are putting a curb to gentrification within our entire city."