Aspen city government to investigate economic impact of pop-ups, trunk shows and art events on local businesses
November 29, 2016
Should the city government pose stricter entry barriers for pop-up sales, trunk shows and art events seeking to swing in and out of town during peak season? Should Aspen be more selective about hosting events?
And in the words of Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch, how does Aspen's downtown commercial scene maintain its funk within "a world that's not as funky" as it used to be?
These are among the many questions that city officials, Aspen retailers and Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Debbie Braun pondered Tuesday night during a City Council work session.
Following claims from Aspen's brick-and-mortars that the slew of pop-up sales, trunk show merchants and art auctions in Aspen are hurting their business, the city agreed Tuesday to investigate the financial impact of these nontraditional businesses and, consequently, what measures may need to be taken to help mitigate any alleged issue.
Specifically, three art events were identified as a possible cause for concern: the Aspen Antiques Jewelry and Fine Arts Fair and Art Aspen, both of which are held at the Aspen Ice Garden, and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association Arts Festival, which occupies about four city blocks along streets that close for the duration of the event.
Compounding the dilemma from the perspective of an Aspen business is the fact that the events all occur during the height of the summer season.
According to a memorandum from Braun to the City Council, 19 luxury retail businesses in Aspen "have collectively vocalized a negative impact" of the growing presence of these temporary, nontraditional businesses.
At Tuesday's meeting, five local brick-and-mortar business retailers voiced their concerns before the council.
Aspen business owner Becky Dumeresque said she was "shocked" by the results of a sales analysis that she recently conducted, per Braun's request, of sales figures from four peak months in July, August, February and March.
"I realized that the Saturday sales for local retailers, the luxury or non-luxury, … have dramatically decreased over the last few years," said Dumeresque, who owns the high-end furniture and home accessory store Chequers at 520 E. Cooper Ave.
"Five percent of gross sales is very low. I think you all can understand that," she said, noting, "I personally find these figures extremely disturbing."
Despite the communal benefits of Aspen's locally owned businesses, Dumeresque said, "I think most of us feel like we're unappreciated as a vibrant part of this community."
"We're there 60 hours a week, and we're not there just during season. We're there the rest of the time making sure our businesses are open to anyone that wants to come in," Dumeresque said.
She continued, "By allowing these two events to come in for close to 20 days during our two busiest, busiest months of summer, they swoop in, they skim the cream off the top, and they leave.
"They're not paying rent. They're not hiring Aspen locals. They're not paying property tax."
While Dumeresque said that she "is not blaming any one particular thing" and recognizes that their taking away from Aspen's brick-and-mortar businesses is not intentional, she urged the City Council to consider the detrimental effect of the nontraditional business model.
Earlier in her public commentary, Dumeresque also said that she has heard from many customers that the town has become too busy in the summer and that "there's too much going on."
Silver Threads optical shop co-owner Ali Hematyar said the anecdote he's hearing from his clients is that "town is becoming boring."
Alluding to the abundance of international luxury chains scattered throughout Aspen's commercial core, Hematyar said, "All of the stores we have here now, you can find elsewhere."
"Aspen isn't special anymore. It doesn't have the character anymore," he said, noting that the loss of Aspen's "weird or funky" shops is felt by many.
Frisch said that while he appreciates and sympathizes with Hematyar's concern, he contended that Aspen has its share of quirky shops.
And, disappointing as it may be, altogether the world just isn't as funky as it used to be, Frisch said.
The City Council thanked all of the retailers who spoke during the work session and expressed an overall willingness to address their concerns.
The bulk of the ideas that Braun and Aspen retailers proposed as possible solutions, which City Manager Steve Barwick agreed to look into, centered around creating a more cumbersome barrier of entry for these nontraditional businesses to gain a temporary foothold in Aspen.
This included increasing the cost of business licenses for pop-up sales, trunk shows and art events, posing stricter criteria for the city to grant business licenses and establishing "blackout dates" that prohibit nontraditional businesses from operating during Aspen's peak season.
In her memo to the council, Braun also recommended that the city conduct an economic impact survey for every nontraditional event, which Barwick said also is in the cards.