OFF THE BOTTLE REFILL SHOP: Celebrating 3 Years of Refill Service In Denver | Interview with Owner Dave Paco

In the heart of Denver’s Capitol Hill, you’ll find Off The Bottle Refill Shop, the neighborhood’s minimal waste refillery. Housed on the corner of the historic brick building on 13th Ave and Sherman, guests are welcomed in by a vibrant outdoor mural and artful windows lined with hanging sea glass bottles and a bounty of lush plants. Stepping through the often open door is like entering a portal to the old world, time-traveling around the globe and landing in the present. You’re transported to an apothecary meets sweet shop meets street market meets jungle to something altogether artfully new. 

Cleaners, shampoos, lotions, potions, soaps, detergents, salts, scrubs and jars line salvaged shelves and alley-rescued cabinets and tables, complete with handwritten detailed descriptions of each good and their respective maker information. Groovy deep cuts and world beats play over a sidewalk freebie sound system, inspiring visitors to explore the space intuitively. Knowledgable shopkeepers encourage interaction with the head-to-toe body products and home goods on display and offer help or guidance if needed from behind a beautiful handmade reclaimed white oak bar with semi-truck floorboard countertops. Hand-signed prints from local artists share the walls with upcycled wallpaper of life-size equatorial plants and the simple, yet boldly stenciled phrase, We Demand A Better Future.  

Owner Dave Paco took action on these words when he opened Off The Bottle Refill Shop three years ago in the midst of the pandemic. Born out of frustration and disgust at the growing plastic waste and pollution problem, Dave and fellow Owner Daniel Landes set out with a mission to offer alternatives to single-use plastic consumption. The result was a space dedicated to refilling customers’ already existing containers with non-toxic, sustainable home and body products.

Off The Bottle Refill Shop Owners Dave Paco & Daniel Landes

“The idea of the shop is really just creating a good energy space that can help people do good things with their shopping habits. A lot of what we do day-to-day is educational, talking to our guests about what it is we do in terms of trying to minimize waste, using already existing containers to bring home daily needs products — shampoo and conditioner, cooking oils and laundry detergents and dish soaps and teas and spices and sunscreen — and giving people the option to step away from that single-use plastic or a single-use container. Every time you need shampoo, you’ve got to get a new bottle, a new pump and they don’t really get recycled. And so this is an experience for folks that are hoping to minimize their contribution to trash.”

Guests are encouraged to bring in their own clean bottles, jars, bags, or boxes to have them filled with as much or as little high-quality, eco-friendly goods as they need, priced by the ounce in weight. There is also a large assortment of new glass, aluminum and stainless steel containers, pumps, and accessories available for purchase. But Off The Bottle takes the concept of reuse a step further by offering free jars. Part of their glass donation/freecycle program, they receive donated vessels which they then sanitize and remove any labels.

“The intention is to keep them alive. When you start to use your containers over and over, you develop a relationship with them. Sometimes when people come in the door, I see the containers in their hand and I know what they’re going to get. He’s gonna get laundry detergent in this, body wash in that, a salt scrub in this. I’m ready to go, because I know those containers, and he knows them better than I do. It’s fun to see that and to appreciate the life of that little bottle that you can carry for the rest of your life.”

Dave has always had a heart for protecting the planet and all of its inhabitants, carrying a responsibility to champion his values through art, expression and his work. Straight out of high school he ran punk label Paco Garden Records in the 90s through the early 2000s where he championed underground musicians and artists. With an unshakeable calling to experience the world and its myriad cultures, he decided to move on as a cab driver to save enough to travel. Graveyard shifts became his norm as he’d work as many hours as possible seven days a week for months at a time before taking off to Japan, India, Southeast Asia, South America, wherever he could venture before coming back to Denver and repeating the cycle. Most recently, he lived in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico where he ran Osa Mariposa, a boutique hostel and the first project he created with his business partner, Daniel. Though rooms are private, the beachside retreat is based on community with shared outdoor spaces and vegetarian/vegan meals. 

“A lot of the influence for the physical shop came from seeing the world, the people’s markets in Mexico or India, a lot of color, a lot of stacks of things. We don’t sell food here, but to see those big open sacks of beans and rice and just going through being able to smell everything and see everything in this kind of abundance and mix of colors and sounds and everything. And usually most people are happy and talking to each other. It’s just awesome. And I wanted to bring that here.

The sound as well has got to be a good positive vibe. The intention there is to just create almost a patchwork quilt of sound — it’s Puerto Rico and Africa and Europe and Argentina and California and everything. I want it to be colorful and I want to hear a lot of different languages and different rhythms and styles. Everything’s got to be uplifting to make people feel that good rhythm, a good time.

I learned more about the environment too during my travels and what plants need, how everything works together. When I lived in the tropics, I learned how easy it is to grow things. At first it was just wonderment, really. You slice the top off of a pineapple and just put it in the dirt and walk away for like a week or two and then come back and all of a sudden there’s a pineapple growing. So I stopped and was like, Wow, the earth is blowing my mind. And when I moved back to the States, I just kind of brought a lot of that with me”

Traveling opened Dave’s eyes to a more harmonious way of living with nature, our neighbors and as a collective community, which directly translates into the undoubtably beautiful aesthetic of the shop and its oasis-esque spirit in the city. But he also witnessed firsthand how plastic, trash, water and air pollution is destroying the planet on a global scale. And it’s these fundamental realities that create the core of Off The Bottle — from the majority of shop’s anatomy constructed with repurposed and found materials, to the carefully curated non-toxic, 100 percent vegan and reusable products they offer. But the shop’s soul lies in their mission to educate guests and also provide some sort of ease in a fight that often feels unbeatable.

“We’re a wasteful society and we’re surrounded by it and force-fed it all the time. We’re almost made to feel weird or insignificant if we try to go against the current. And it can be exhausting and very time consuming. You can make a lot of your own stuff if you have time. But if you’re working 40 hours a week, you have kids, or you’re working two to three jobs, that’s not possible. But it doesn’t have to be daunting, it doesn’t have to be a colossal change from one day to another. I think the realistic approach for most people who are interested in making changes like this is to do one thing at a time, just make a couple changes here and there. We spend a lot of our time at the shop educating. So if anybody has questions about that or concerns or doesn’t know where to start, we’re happy to just talk about it. You don’t have to buy anything, you can just come in here and talk or send an email or phone us to ask questions about what you’re wondering about. That’s what we’re here for.”

Off The Bottle Refill Shop is open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. at 220 E 13th Ave Denver, CO with products also available online.

Learn more about what this independent, earth-supporting business has to offer on their website | Instagram | Facebook

Don’t miss their 3 year celebration on Sunday, June 9 from 2-5 p.m. with snacks, music, art and 10% off all refills.