SNOWMASS VILLAGE - It's pretty amazing to consider that for the first 10 years of the Snowmass ski area, there was no grocery store in Snowmass. If you wanted a quart of milk or other food staples, you had to drive either upvalley to Aspen or downvalley to Basalt. It's also pretty amazing to consider that in more than 33 years of being in business, Village Market Snowmass has been open every day since.
John Buxman is the owner of Village Market Snowmass as well as Village Markets in Edwards, Telluride and Moab, Utah.
Buxman grew up in Oklahoma and came to Colorado after college in 1949 as the Colorado mountain resorts in Vail and Aspen were just beginning to evolve into ski towns.
He got into the grocery business by working in a store and rising up through the ranks. Eventually, Buxman was able to open his own grocery store in Minturn in 1968. In 1978, he opened a Village Market in Vail that was open until 2008.
In 1979, Buxman opened his Village Market in Snowmass.
"I have a love affair with Snowmass," Buxman said. "The first time I drove in there, I said, 'This is where I want to live.' It's the greatest little town in the world, as far as I'm concerned, and I really love being part of it."
According to Buxman, large grocery distributors who sell food items, meat and produce don't work as well with independent grocery stores as they do with large chain stores. To combat this, Buxman has focused on niche markets, especially resort markets where he thought he could serve the community well and still have a good time.
"Independent grocery stores are a vanishing breed across the United States," Buxman said. "I like the contact with customers, the challenge of offering good service and competing with the chain stores. If you take care of your customers and try to be competitive, you'll make it."
The recent trend of sourcing food from more local farms can be found at Village Market Snowmass, particularly in the produce section, which was reorganized and expanded two summers ago. Jerry Pazar is the produce manager and has been with the store for 19 years. At Village Market Snowmass, you will find produce and fruit from Green River, Utah, from Palisade and around the Grand Junction area and from Paonia. If you want a real treat this week, try some of the peaches from Palisade.
Family and longtime staff members are a way of life at Village Market.
Buxman's son, John Buxman Jr., is now part of the management team, following in his father's grocery footsteps.
Is he excited to carry on the family business?
"Yes, he is. Or at least he was until he found out how much work it is," the elder Buxman said with a laugh. "He was on the U.S. ski team for many years, and he'd rather ski." Sounds like the younger Buxman fits in perfectly in Snowmass.
In addition to produce manager Jerry Pazar, Village Market Snowmass also has other longtime staff members. Deb Miller and her husband, Greg, have worked in Snowmass for 14 years, and Teresa Kelly has worked at Village Market Snowmass since 1992. Her dad worked at both the Minturn market and the Vail Village Market for years, and her son, James, is now a cashier in Snowmass. What does she like about Village Market Snowmass?
"The people," Kelly said. "They are more like a family. We greet each other, ask about each other's family. It's really great."
The Buxman family continues to look for grocery-store opportunities.
"It seems like I have a way of staying in a store for 30 or 40 years, so I think that speaks well for the communities that have put up with me," Buxman said.
While Village Market Snowmass has more than 20,000 items in the store (a lot for an independent store), Buxman would still like to expand his operations and grow into new space. Before the recession hit in 2008, there was a land-use process before the town to scrap the Snowmass Center and rebuild it from the ground up, including a new Village Market.
But for now, the Buxmans are focused on making Village Market Snowmass the best they can with the space they have. This week at Village Market, look for specials on zucchini and yellow squash (99 cents per pound), boneless pork chops ($3.99 per pound), Angel food loaf ($2.29 each), Powerade sports drinks (79 cents each) and seedless watermelon (39 cents per pound).
"We've been through power failures, other problems, but have never closed," Buxman said. "We feel like we have to be open 52 weeks a year, and we don't take that responsibility lightly."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.