ASPEN - Longtime Aspen resident Larry Sands thought he'd be busy setting up shop for his his latest business endeavor this Thanksgiving weekend. Instead, he's waiting on the courts to decide when - and if - he can move into the downtown space he claims he signed a lease for effective Nov. 1.
"I don't have a back-up plan; I didn't think I'd need one. ... I signed a lease in good faith," said Sands, who hopes to open a Silver Threads Aspen boutique before the holiday retail rush. "I feel like I am being bullied a little bit here."
According to a series of filings in Pitkin County District Court, the retail space in question - located in the Ute City Bank Building, facing Galena Street - has for years been leased to the Optical Shop of Aspen. That lease was set to expire Oct. 31 unless the shop exercised its option to extend it at least 75 days prior. The landlord, Aspen Arcade Limited LLLP, claims the shop did not do so and subsequently leased the space to Sands.
Sands actually founded the Optical Shop in 1970 but sold the eyeglass retail company to Oakley in 2006. The following year, Luxottica purchased Oakley for $2.1 billion.
In court documents, Optical Shop representatives state they believe they still have a right to the space and have refused to move out.
"While I'm disappointed that our good-faith negotiations have led to this moment in Optical Shops of Aspen's long history in the community, the shop is optimistic we will get the dispute resolved quickly," stated Rob McCoy, vice president and general manager of Optical Shop of Aspen, in a written statement. "We are not interested in a prolonged dispute with our current landlord."
According to the most recent court ruling, issued Monday, the Optical Shop and Sands have until Nov. 30 to complete arbitration on the matter. If it goes beyond that date, the court could require the Optical Shop to post a bond to ensure Sands - if he ultimately takes control of the space - does not lose money.
Sands' attorney, Aspen-based Matthew Ferguson, said he would request a bond "for the delay of $2 million." According to Sands, his investment in everything from custom showcases ($200,000) to ski passes for employees ($5,600) to merchandise ($875,000 for Richard Mille watches alone) is substantial. He believes his success is based largely on being open for business before the winter season kicks into high gear.
And while Sands says he does not want to see the Optical Shop of Aspen go out of business, both he and Ferguson do want them to vacate the space they believe rightfully belongs to Sands.
"This is not some little shop holding up some big business from moving in," Ferguson said. "Silver Threads is a one-man show; OSA and Luxottica can afford to move."
In the written statement, McCoy said regardless of the outcome, the Optical Shop will remain in business: "Whether we remain in our current location, or if we are forced to find a new location, I'm confident that Optical Shops of Aspen will be able to continue to meet the demands and needs of our customers and employees as we have done in Aspen for over 40 years."