By Matt Watson
Building community in a new neighborhood is no small task, but Michelle Baros – like her grandfather before her – is up to the challenge.
When Baros’ grandfather relocated from the historical Auraria neighborhood to make way for the Auraria Campus, he became the first of five generations to take up residence in Denver’s Athmar Park. Baros still lives in her grandfather’s home in the community her family helped build – but not for much longer.
Her grandfather’s move from Auraria set in motion a chain of events that resulted in Baros going to college on a full scholarship while working toward her lifelong dream of becoming a business owner. Soon, that chain will culminate in Baros moving from her grandfather’s Athmar Park home to build community in a new metro area neighborhood, where she intends to open a 7-Eleven franchise.
Baros first enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver in 1986 at age 19 with dreams of owning her own business. However, at the time she was also working and raising her two stepchildren; she ultimately decided it was best to walk away from school to focus on her family.
She found a job at La-Z-Boy as an accounting clerk and over the next 30 years worked her way up to store manager. But even as she succeeded and earned promotions, the dream of finishing her degree and owning her own business never waned.
Her close connection to her family and Athmar Park neighborhood helped her to achieve both goals.
Baros first learned about the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship from her father some 30 years after she first enrolled in MSU Denver, she said. The scholarship pays for the tuition and fees at any of the three higher education institutions on the Auraria Campus for those who were displaced during the creation of the campus, their children and grandchildren.
She began collecting her family’s historical documents, including paperwork from their former home at 8th and Champa Streets, she said. When she put it all together, she jumped for joy.
“I probably would not have gone back to school without (the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship),” she said. “That was the incentive that really pushed me. It made it so that I could afford to quit working, go to school and concentrate on doing well here.”
The Displaced Aurarian Scholarship has awarded almost $2 million in scholarships over the years, with close to 275 students using the funds to take classes at MSU Denver. There are 36 active scholars this academic year, including Baros, who will graduate from the University this month at age 52 with a management degree.
“My first semester, I was emotional walking around campus. I got a tear in my eye just thinking, ‘How lucky am I? How many people get a chance at this age to be here in this environment?’” she said. “When you’re given something this valuable, you better make the best of it.”
It is an opportunity Baros discovered while earning her degree that will take her from her beloved Athmar Park home to Arvada, where she plans to hold a grand opening for a new 7-Eleven franchise this summer.
Baros’ pursuit of a 7-Eleven store started with her work in the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association when a member shared a tip about a local franchise opportunity. Though that didn’t pan out, Baros did connect with a 7-Eleven rep who encouraged her to enter the company’s franchise giveaway contest for women entrepreneurs, a program called W.E. Take the Lead. She applied, completed a financial disclosure, made a video pitch and twice flew to the company’s U.S. headquarters in Irving, Texas, to interview with a panel of executives.
“I felt honored to have made the top 25. When they called to tell me that I made the final four, you would’ve thought I won the lottery,” Baros said. “I didn’t win – I came in second – but 7-Eleven provided additional support to me and the other two finalists should we decide to franchise with the company.”
While she had the funds to pay the rest of the franchise fee – and locations in mind – she was committed to finishing her degree first. 7-Eleven supported that decision.
After she graduates from MSU Denver this month, Baros wants to be a part of 7-Eleven’s rapid expansion plans – the company has said it wants to double its U.S. footprint to 20,000 stores by 2027. And her dreams don’t stop at a single franchise: Baros hopes to own at least five stores.
But first things first. As the planned grand opening of the Arvada 7-Eleven approaches, Baros is hatching community-building projects, such as giving out free Slurpee coupons to Arvada elementary schools and sponsoring youth sports teams. She knows firsthand how important community is, and as a potential new business owner in a new neighborhood, she plans to go all in.
“This is my retirement plan. I have bigger dreams and goals, and this is what I want to do,” Baros said. “The possibilities are endless.”
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