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Denver minimum wage hike squeezes businesses, helps struggling workers

Denver has the 7th-highest minimum wage in the country, according to an analysis of data from the Economic Policy Institute.

Cole Sullivan

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Published: 8:39 PM MST February 27, 2023
Updated: 9:40 PM MST February 27, 2023

At Nicole Sullivan's bookstore on Tennyson Street, the bottom line got the last word. 

A packed crowd gathered to say goodbye. Sullivan closed the final chapter of her 10-year-old business, BookBar, with a sparkling wine toast at the end of January. 

"This is a good ending," she said. "And as a book lover, we always like a good ending."

Going out like this wasn't entirely her choice, Sullivan said. Expenses – driven by Denver's increasing minimum wage – made operating the bookstore unsustainable. 

"It's just a simple math problem," she said. 

At $17.29, Denver's minimum wage is the seventh-highest in the country, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The city council voted to hike the wage starting in 2020 and tie future increases to inflation. Since Sullivan opened BookBar in 2013, the hourly base wage has increased from $7.78. 

"And it’s necessary! You know cost of living is going up, rent is going up, electricity is going up. So the minimum wage has to increase. It just didn’t work for us," Sullivan said. 

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