The Arapahoe County Amateurs Institution known as the Norm’s dollhouse was born out of a family business that started in 1970. This was the year Norm and Norma Nielsen built and decorated their first dollhouse for their then 5-year-old daughter.
âNorm really liked it,â Norma said. âHe started doing it for the girls in the neighborhood. “
The hobby became a passion and in 1978 the Nielsens opened Norm’s Dollhouse in 540 square feet of the former Southglenn Mall.
âIt was atrocious keeping the shopping center open,â recalls Norma of the early days of the still family business. âWe were just learning about this miniature world. It’s a happy little world.
The store occupied a few other spaces over the years – and suffered terrible tragedy – before opening in its current home at 7300 S. Colorado Blvd., in Centennial in 2002. Now, Norma, her son, David Nielsen, and his shop dog, Spyro, the golden retriever, is putting the finishing touches on his long legacy and preparing to shut down Norm’s Dollhouse for good. Her last day will be March 15, just over a month after her 39th birthday.
âA lot of our very good clients have passed away or had to downsize and move to retirement homes,â Norma said. âAnd I really feel like the internet has taken the business away from us. I have to say we had a pretty good race.
The store almost closed after November 16, 1993. It was the day Norm Nielsen was shot and killed in the doorway of the family home by a man with whom he had previously exchanged words about the loud music that the man was blowing from his truck. A portrait of Norm is prominently displayed on the back wall of the store.
âI was in total shock,â Norma recalled of the aftermath of Norm’s death. “If it had been just me, I doubt I would have continued.”
But by this time, his daughter, Nancy, was working full time at the store and David was getting more involved. She said the children’s presence had encouraged her to keep the doors open and honor Norm, the most confident man she had ever known.
âWe wanted to do it for him,â she said.
A visit to Norm’s today, now in 2,500 square feet, shows the depth and breadth of the miniature world. The store has thousands of items as basic as dollhouse kits, bricks and shingles, and as specialized as mini ping-pong tables and pint-sized artisan cheese platters.
A customer recently called Norm’s with a request.
âI 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. âIt was the kind of thing you could get if you went. “
Pontarelli is the chairman of the board of directors of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys. Norm helped establish the museum and served on its board of trustees. It features dollhouses made by him and his father Norm Sr., as well as a gallery space dedicated to his memory. Pontarelli remembered Norm as an exceptionally generous man who freely offered his expertise to shop owners with less experience in miniatures.
Pontarelli said rising commercial rents along the Front Range have hurt small hobby stores in recent years. The closure of Norm’s will also mean one less place for artisans who handcraft miniature items to showcase their products.
“It will be a great loss for the craftsmen and the inhabitants of this part of the country,” Pontarelli said. “I can’t tell you how much of a bittersweet pill this is.”
Jeannette Peterson owns Rocky Mountain Miniatures in Georgetown. She called Norm’s âthe grandfather of everyone in the areaâ when it comes to dollhouse items. She said she had no problem referring customers to Norm’s if she didn’t have what they were looking for.
âThey are the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me,â she said. “It will be a huge void when they close.”
The Nielsen family’s contributions to the miniature world won’t stop with the store.
David will continue to produce custom dollhouse kits in his South Santa Fe Drive workshop. He and his girlfriend, Wendy Russell, plan to launch a website where they will continue to sell kits and other items. He also has a few dozen back orders for projects he will fill.
âI still appreciate it. I love coming every day, âhe said of the job. âMany of our long-time customers are saddened by (us) the closure. They are friends. We love to see them.
David uses modern tools – a recently purchased laser cutter makes cutting trimmings easier compared to a jigsaw – but most of the work is done the same way his father did 40 years ago: manual labor. with meticulous attention to detail.
David said that when Denver’s model train mega-store Caboose Hobbies closed earlier this year (he has since announced plans to reopen under a new owner), he had a feeling that Norm would not be far behind. He said that many young people simply did not embrace hobbies like building dollhouses. He said it took him around 130 hours to build a dollhouse inside and out. The hobby can also be expensive. Even kits for one-piece structures can cost $ 95 and that’s before you add any of the individually priced accessories.
Norma said the store will continue to restock items until Christmas and then limit new merchandise to customers’ special orders. She hopes people will come and buy some of the many completed houses, bedroom boxes and other displays around the store. She does not bring home any of it.
Her plans after Norm’s last day are to tend the garden of the Centennial Quarter house that she, Norm, and their four children first moved into in 1968. She said the store would not hold any. departure party or farewell party.
âEmotionally, I don’t think I could handle this,â Norma said. “We’re just going to disappear.”