Paul E. Anna: High Points | AspenTimes.com

Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

It’s an old joke: How many Aspenites does it take to change a light bulb? Nine is the answer, one to change it and eight others to talk about how great the old light bulb was.

I thought of that joke yesterday when I read the story about Jill’s Carpets ending its nearly quarter-century run on Main Street. Now I have never bought carpet at Jill’s, and, in recent years, I have often pondered as I passed by how they managed to make a living and pay the rent in such a prime location in this boom-town. That said, they always garnered my respect for gutting it out and maintaining a service/retail business in such a cute little Victorian on Main.

Visitors and newcomers may not share the nostalgia gene that is part of the DNA of many Aspenites. They may be more inclined to subscribe to the premise that survival of the fittest is the best way for this town to operate. And if the fittest prove to be Burberry, Gucci and Lauren, then more power to them.

It’s a reasonable argument, but homage must be made to those institutions that are becoming fewer and further between, the locally operated businesses. Jill and Don Westerlind put 24 years into running Jill’s and they will take many of their customers with them when at their downvalley location. But we, as a community, will be lesser for having another local shop gone.

I know, I know, “it’s just a carpet shop” you’re saying. “What’s the big deal?” Well the big deal is that this town was once a charming place where you knew just about everyone who ran the shops, cooked in the restaurants, painted the houses, pumped the gas and ran the lifts. As we lose a carpet company and a corner bar and any number of other local establishments we lose more and more of our local identity. Our reason for being someplace special.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still many locally owned shops and restaurants that are Aspen institutions. The Hotel Jerome has been welcoming guests since the 1890s, the Wheeler Opera House is, as it was, a grand performance space. And kudos to the folks who polished the tin ceiling and kept the taps flowing at The Red Onion.

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In the article, Jill said that doing business has just gotten harder in recent years. There must be a reason for that, a reason that may begin and end in another longtime local institution, City Hall. Do our elected representatives do everything they can to ensure that local businesses can operate as efficiently as possible? Are there things they do beyond making it possible to pay for our parking with our cell phones? I don’t know. Perhaps they should commission a study.

In any event this summer, let’s celebrate and support all of those locally owned and operated businesses in this town. We need them to do well so that the local landlords, who own the classic buildings that were here long before they came to be their temporary custodians, see that there is value to having shops with soul rather than shops that just have corporate cash behind them. Yes, Jill’s was just a carpet shop. But it was Aspen’s carpet shop.

And that’s no joke.

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