Hank Robinson Built Argonaut Into a Force for Change on East Colfax

Robinson died Wednesday, Jan. 31 at age 96

Henry "Hank" R. Robinson, who, with his brother Jack, built Denver's Argonaut Wine & Liquor from a corner store into a powerhouse enterprise that helped transform E. Colfax Avenue, passed away last Wednesday, Jan. 31 at age 96. 

Friends and family recall Robinson as a creative business force who formed alliances with neighbors and community leaders to better the prospects of the down-at-the-heels corridor east of the Capitol; but also, as an aficionado of Western history who sought to preserve Denver's frontier past.


"My father was the consummate people-person," says daughter Patti Jo Robinson. "He was successful in development and charity work in part because he loved people and talking to them."

Born August, 22, 1921 to parents living in Denver's West Side Jewish neighborhood, Robinson's family dated back to the city's early years. His father, Lazar, son of a peddler, built an insurance business and mother Lena opened a dress shop downtown. After a year at University of Colorado, Robinson was called to a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Merchant Marine in the Pacific theater during World War II. He later returned to his father's business. 

In 1965, Robinson and his father bought a corner liquor store from a client and set to work building its potential, later bringing in brother Jack. At a time when East Colfax just east of downtown was spiraling from a highway retail strip into a rundown area of dated motels and cabarets, they acquired surrounding property and set to work forming a coalition of community groups that would coalesce into a major redevelopment.

During the following decades, Argonaut developed a 40,000-square-foot presence at Colfax and Washington Street, now the city's largest liquor retailer, while helping transform the block west into upscale retail including a Natural Grocer. In 1986, trade publication Market Watch awarded Hank and Jack its Leaders Alumni Award for service to the community and repeated the honor in 2016 for Hank Robinson and son-in-law Ron Vaughn, now CEO. Jack Robinson died in 2001.

Robinson is remembered as a lover of Denver's Western heritage. Recalling how his grandfather sold merchandise from the back of a horse, Hank Robinson learned to ride and later to cut cattle on the amateur rodeo circuit. He later acquired a collection of western art and memorabilia, including one of the largest Native American kachina dolls in private holding. He was a car collector and active in antique car clubs in Denver. 

In later years as his nephew Scott Robinson and son-in-law Ron took over day-to-day operations, Hank would spend days on the retail floor at Argonaut chatting with customers.

In addition to numerous community awards, Robinson was chosen in 2016 for an 'Honor Flight' to view the new National World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall in recognition of his service in the Pacific. He is remembered in the liquor industry for exceptional efforts in combatting substance abuse through Arapahoe House, a treatment facility. In addition to his substantial support for Jewish community institutions and major health and children's welfare charities, family members recall Robinson as a contributor to dozens of smaller causes.

"He wouldn't let a postcard from some cause pass his desk without writing a check," says Patti Jo.

Robinson died following an extended illness. Those mourning his loss include wife Bobette Robinson; daughter Karen Robinson and husband Ron Vaughn; daughter Lynn Robinson and husband Larry Bass; daughter Patti JO Robinson and husband Brad Levin; sister-in-law Suzanne Robinson; nephews Scott and Jeff Robinson and niece Jolie Robinson; grandchildren Alex, Robyn and Richard Levin, Jessica Bass and husband Kevin McKinney, Zachary Bass, and Rachel and Rebecca Vaughn; and great grandchildren Henry and Cora McKinney. 

Mark Samuelson has written about housing, business and real estate for The Denver Post for more than 25 years. He is president of Samuelson & Associates, a communications company that specializes in builder marketing, real estate and energy technologies. He can be reached at mark@samuelsonassoc.com.

Categories: People