Greg Reinke is a visionary.
He wants to bring 10,000 people to downtown Littleton every weekend. He also wants to bring (and bring back) monthly events with names like Pumpkin Follies and Goat Show, Der Seussanveiner Adventure, Wig-N-Giggle and the Whoopie Cushion Roof Top Concert Series to downtown.
Over the years, he has seen his sometimes off-kilter ideas thwarted by bureaucracy and naysayers. But as the newly elected president of the Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association, Reinke just might finally get his way.
Although he is best known for his costume shop and Halloween haunted house on Prince Street, those things barely scratch the surface of what he is all about. His bread and butter is constructing props, sets and decorations for parties and conventions. He has done make-up for television shows, constructed corporate clients’ floats for parades and occasionally dines with Hollywood actors.
He just finished with the backdrops and staging for the Western and English Sales Association fashion show at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.
But many people in the third-generation Littleton native’s hometown dismiss him as just a goofy guy who owns a store that sells fake dog poop and other gags. And he’s OK with that.
“I don’t talk about myself very often,” he said. “People have no idea what I do. But I didn’t want them to know.”
Reinke’s store is packed to the rafters with masks, costumes, wigs, ghoulish figures, magic tricks, and Star Wars memorabilia, some of it gifts from the actors themselves. A warehouse holds sets from far-off lands of make-believe: old western towns, under the sea, shipwrecks and more.
Reinke hopes he will be able to use his expertise (and his props) in bringing to life his visions for Main Street.
“You have Disney sitting in your own backyard,” he said. “Let’s use it.”
But the real key to creating a thriving downtown area that attracts droves of shoppers, diners and bar-hoppers, is not special effects or events. It’s old-fashioned working together. Fostering a sense of community, cooperation and friendship between downtown business owners, Reinke says, is the first step.
In fact, the events Reinke wants to implement first are more like team-building exercises for the merchants. He laments that no one even knew the owners of a recently closed business on Main Street.
“When you text people and stuff, that’s not a social network,” he said. “When you sit across from one another and you get excited about things or you talk about things, that’s a social network. And that’s what (the merchants) lack.”
The first thing Reinke plans to bring back is the Party Bar, a mobile, fold-out bar that makes a surprise appearance for one hour every Friday afternoon at a different downtown location. The idea is for merchants to get to know each other in a fun, informal setting.
The long-haired Littleton High School graduate, who jokingly calls himself “Mr. Littleton,” is passionate about his hometown. Reinke’s enthusiasm is palpable and contagious when he talks about the work-in-progress downtown events he is brainstorming.
The merchants group’s treasurer, Jeff Darley, says Reinke’s creative, unconventional flair will be a welcome change from the usual marketing and advertising the organization has done in recent years.
“Anything that can separated downtown Littleton from the other shopping districts in Colorado is a good thing,” he said.
Darley, who runs Padgett Business Services on South Rapp Street, is a past participant in the Pumpkin Follies and says he plans to take part again.
The Pumpkin Follies and Goat Show started out as a funny-sounding, gimmicky, pumpkin pole decorating contest for the downtown merchants. The winners of the contest, which was judged by Littleton Municipal Court’s own judges, were rewarded by being crowned king and queen. But they also won the humiliation of having to walk with goats on a leash through the streets.
“It was just silliness and goofiness because we had no money,” Reinke said. “If you can’t pay for it you’ve got to do something to get people’s attention, get it in the news and make them talk about it.”
By those measures the event was a huge success, drawing crowds, landing Littleton on the cover of USA Today and recognition as 2007’s Best Secret Halloween Party by the publication Westword. But it came to an end, Reinke says, because a few people who didn’t like the event complained to the city, which ended it on a permitting technicality.
This time, though, Reinke says he is prepared to jump through all the hoops of proper permitting and is working closely with city officials to work through any red tape in order to bring the event back.
Nancy Stalf, vice president of the merchants group and director of the Town Hall Arts Center, says she likes the idea of the team-building exercises that will let time-strapped business owners make personal connections with each other in a fun, casual atmosphere.
“It’s great that someone with such enthusiasm and personal commitment to downtown wants to take it on,” Stalf said. “He is a good person for this point in our organization’s progression and we are looking forward to following his lead.”
The 51-year-old Reinke, who jokes he just received his AARP card, says downtown Littleton already has most of what it needs to attract people, especially young people: restaurants, historic buildings, shopping, proximity to the light rail and new upscale apartment complexes.
“We are set to be huge here,” Reinke said. “We are set to be the new trendy place and stay the trendy place for a long, long time.”
With new projects like The Tavern, Reinke predicts the crowds that have begun to trickle back to downtown in recent years will increase.
A former candidate for city council who lost the election to current Mayor Doug Clark by just 26 votes, Reinke is big on letting the people decide. Before he would accept the role of president of the merchants group, a position bestowed upon him by the consensus of just a few board members, he insisted on polling all the members of the organization.
“I said, we are going put it to the merchants and if they want me, I’m here,” he said. “But this is what I’m about. I’m an event guy. I’m not going to bang my head this time.”
He won an overwhelming 88 percent of the vote.
Although he won’t name names, Reinke knows he still has his detractors and skeptics. His antics, though they have always been in the spirit of making Littleton a better community, have ruffled some feathers.
But he knows you can’t please everyone and now that he has the green light from fellow merchants, he is dedicated to bringing his vision for Littleton to life.
“Am I angry? Yeah. Am I good at what I do? Yeah. Put the two together, it’s unstoppable. My goal is to create an area down here where you bring your family and you say, ‘How cool is that?’ ”