Sad­ness knocks as pop­u­lar Norm’s Doll­house will close doors

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Joe Ru­bino

I t’s the kind of place you go to find a 1950s re­frig­er­a­tor in a cool mint green with the freezer at the top.

The 4-inch-tall model. If you’re in the mar­ket for such an ap­pli­ance, don’t wait to buy.

The Ara­pa­hoe County hob­by­ists’ in­sti­tu­tion Norm’s Doll­house is clos­ing its doors.

Norm’s be­gan as a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity in 1970. That was the year Norm and Norma Nielsen built and dec­o­rated their first doll­house for their 5-year-old daugh­ter.

“Norm re­ally liked it,” Norma Nielsen said. “He started do­ing it for the neigh­bor­hood girls.”

The hobby grew into a pas­sion, and in 1978 the Nielsens opened Norm’s Doll­house in 540 square feet at the former South­glenn mall.

“It was ex­cru­ci­at­ing keep­ing mall hours,” Norma re­called of the early days. “We were just learn­ing about this minia­ture world. It’s a happy lit­tle world.”

The shop sur­vived sev­eral moves — and a tragedy — be­fore open­ing in 2002 in its cur­rent home at 7300 S. Colorado Blvd. in Cen­ten­nial. Now, Norma, her son, David, and shop dog Spyro, a golden re­triever, are pre­par­ing to close the Doll­house doors. Its last day will be March 15, a month af­ter its 39th an­niver­sary.

“A lot of our re­ally good cus­tomers have passed away or had to down­size and move into se­nior liv­ing places,” Norma said. “And I re­ally feel that the in­ter­net has taken the busi­ness away from us. I must say, we’ve had a pretty good run.”

Own­ing a small busi­ness is never easy. Norm’s nearly closed for good Nov. 16, 1993. That was the day Norm Nielsen was fa­tally shot in the door­way of the fam­ily’s home by a man he had crit­i­cized for blast­ing mu­sic from his truck. A por­trait of Norm hangs promi­nently on the store’s back wall.

“I was in to­tal shock” af­ter the shoot­ing, Norma re­called. “If it had just been me, I doubt I would have con­tin­ued on.”

But, by then, her daugh­ter, Nancy, was work­ing at the shop full time and David was get­ting in­creas­ingly in­volved. Norma per­se­vered to honor Norm, the most con­fi­dent man she has ever known. “We wanted to do it for him,” she said. Norm’s now en­com­passes 2,500 square feet and dis­plays the depth and breadth of the minia­tures world, from ba­sic doll­house kits to pint-sized ping­pong ta­bles and ar­ti­san cheese plat­ters.

The shop has been the go-to place for hob­by­ists, as a re­cent cus­tomer at­tests.

“I called them up and said, ‘David, do you have any re­frig­er­a­tors from the 1950s?’ and he said, ‘Well, we have a few,’ ” said Bar­bara Pontarelli. “That was the kind of thing that you could get if you went out there.”

Pontarelli is board pres­i­dent at the Den­ver Mu­seum of Minia­tures, Dolls & Toys. Norm, who helped es­tab­lish the mu­seum, served on its board. It fea­tures

David Nielsen works on the in­te­rior of a cus­tom doll­house at Norm’s Doll­house in Cen­ten­nial. Af­ter the store closes March 15, Nielsen will con­tinue to pro­duce cus­tom doll­house kits at his work­shop on South Santa Fe Drive. Seth McCon­nell, The Den­ver Post

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