SNOWMASS VILLAGE - "Retail is tough when you depend upon a mall that really only has four months," said Anna Spalding, general manager and buyer for Sunglass Panache on the Snowmass Village Mall. "The reality is that you make money in winter and have to stretch it out the rest of the year. You break even in summer."
Like most mountain resort economies, retail businesses in Snowmass Village have battled to stay alive outside of winter since the resort opened in 1967.
John Humphrey opened Sunglass Panache on the Snowmass Mall in 1989. Spalding has been the general manager and buyer since 1997.
"We have great customers and great repeat business," said Humphrey. "People have counted on us for fashion and for sport since we opened, and it's great seeing them when they come back year after year."
Both Humphrey and Spalding are longtime Aspen/Snowmass residents.
"I have lived here since 1970," said Spalding. "I was living in New Orleans, and my sister convinced me to move here for a winter to ski. I thought skiing was only an Olympic sport. That first winter, I was so cold and then went to Hawaii in the offseason. But I came back and started a business with Jan Worth. We owned the gift shop at the Aspen airport."
When Spalding and her partner sold the airport gift shop, she moved to Atlanta for three years, managing a retail business with 32 employees.
When Humphrey was looking to expand his Snowmass operations with a second store on the Snowmass Mall, a friend of Anna's recommended her. Humphrey met Spalding in Chicago when she was on a buying trip.
She returned to Aspen/Snowmass in 1997, and a second sunglass and goggle shop was opened in the Silvertree building. Cool Dog operated for 16 years until this spring, when they closed as part of the Silvertree remodel.
Over the past 15 years, sunglasses and goggles have become a much more sophisticated business, according to Spalding. The products are more technical these days. And international customers are very savvy, willing to pay up to $1,800 for a pair of Chrome Hearts sunglasses, and they want that year's model, not last year's.
"People want sunglasses to do a lot for them," explained Spalding. "Now, they are polarized or they come with coatings. You can get colored frames or frames with inset stones. You get what you pay for, unless they are on sale."
The store's philosophy is pretty basic. In the summer, you sell sunglasses. In the winter, if it's sunny you sell sunglasses; if it's snowing, you sell goggles.
Goggles have evolved over the years. Now, the better-made goggles have double lenses to keep them from fogging. Many come with coatings on the outside. And you can add technological improvements like a GPS or camera built into the lens frame.
Sunglasses have also become more sophisticated through technology and craftsmanship. Humphrey has traveled to Italy just to see how a particular European sunglass company made its product. Spalding has done the same here in the United States, visiting the Oakley company in California.
"I didn't understand why they were so expensive, so I flew to California and went to the factory," said Spalding. "I was so blown away. Every pair of glasses was treated special. They had people in white lab coats stopping in front of workers and testing what they were working on. Nothing left the factory that wasn't perfect. When I left, I had changed my mind completely. I thought they should raise the price."
Both Humphrey and Spalding like to travel in the offseason. Humphrey spends summers in Wisconsin, and Spalding has a condo in Denver that she thinks she managed to get to for three days last offseason. She recently became a member of Aspen's Elks Lodge because she likes to volunteer for events.
"It's a huge give-back to the community for all the years I've been able to live here," said Spalding.
After owning and operating Sunglass Panache in Snowmass for 23 years, Humphrey still loves the place.
"Snowmass is a great place to ski, and I get to live here too. That's nice," he said.
Sunglass Panache is open daily this summer from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and opens by appointment one night a week to groups. Ask about their special promotions.
Sunglass Panache. Snowmass Mall. 970-923-5866.
Steve Alldredge is the former assistant editor/writer for the Snowmass Sun. He now runs a local communications company whose clients include Related Colorado. He can be reached at: email@example.com.