| AspenTimes.com

50 years of Pitkin County Dry Goods

David Fleischer has some sage advice for young entrepreneurs eyeing Aspen for a future in retail.

“Have a good backing,” he said. “And you have to be onsite as a manager to do it well, particularly in a store like this. And have passion for what you’re doing. You can’t be just doing it for the money, or you’re never going to do that well with it.”

On Friday, Fleischer’s Pitkin County Dry Goods celebrates its 50-year anniversary of selling fashionable men and women’s clothing in Aspen, its most recent location at 520 E. Cooper Ave. It’s been there since 1992.

Customers will be treated to beverages and appetizers with 10% of their purchase amounts benefiting The Buddy Program, an Aspen nonprofit organization that links young Roaring Fork Valley residents with older, mentor-like figures.

Customers also will receive with their purchases a complimentary tie-dye shirt, a nod to 1969, the year the Woodstock music festival was staged, and also the year Pitkin County Dry Goods debuted on the 600 block of East Hyman Avenue.

It was actually July 4, 1969, when Fleischer’s brother, Dan, with two partners, opened the shop because “he had this idea that Aspen needed a clothing store,” David recalled.

Other than the Bill Bullock’s, a seller of such Western wear as Levi’s blue jeans and cowboy hats, Aspen didn’t have much of a clothing-store scene, Dan relayed to his brother. Dan’s insight was based on his time as a commercial real estate agent in Aspen, recalled David, who arrived to Aspen by way of San Francisco in August 1970.

“The store was almost bankrupt and, long story short, I took it over almost six months later,” David said. “I fell in love with the business. I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do; I had taken a leave of absence from law school and fell in love with it, and said, ‘Give me five years and I’ll make it work if we can keep it open.’ And that’s what I did.

“It took me a long time, because I didn’t know anything about the business.”

He had an affinity, however, for clothing and the town of Aspen, eventually building Pitkin County Dry Goods into a small yet reputable multi-brand specialty store.

“I always loved clothes,” he said. “And even when I was living in the Bay Area, I would call and give them (at Pitkin County Dry Goods) advice on different lines to buy, but even then I had no idea about being in business.”

When the store first opened, bell-bottom jeans were all the rage, T-shirts would become fashionable in the ’70s, and references to Amazon were about the rainforest and river, not the online retailer behemoth.

Yet while locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses have had a bevy of challenges in Aspen over the years — recessions, bad snow seasons, competition from deep-pocketed chain retailers, escalating rents and internet consumerism — Pitkin County Dry Goods has managed to stay afloat.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’re certainly one of the oldest businesses in town under the same ownership,” Fleischer said.

He added that “we’re certainly survivors. Each successive challenge and near disaster, from no-snow years to all the recessions we went through, I suppose I learned how to survive them and get through them. I hate to be glib, but the last recession, I didn’t get too stressed out about it. I knew what to do and did it, so it went to automatic.”

Fleischer would meet his future wife, Aspen native Gina Berko, at the store in 1971. With a full-time staff of about 25 employees, Pitkin County Dry Goods assures them steady employment by staying open year-round. They also receive health insurance.

“Whatever they commit to us, we commit to them year-round,” Fleischer said, adding it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire and retain dependable employees.

Nathan Harris, who has been the men’s buyer and merchandiser for the store for six years, said it’s not just about getting a warm body on the payroll. Workers who believe in the store’s concept are more likely to succeed, stick around and become part of the store’s community-like vibe.

“Getting people to join your team and be part of that family atmosphere, I think it’s incredibly difficult in this resort town, not only because of where it is but it’s no secret it’s expensive to live here, it’s expensive to eat here, it’s expensive to drink here,” Harris said. “Everything associated with the lifestyle here is very expensive, so it takes a lot of time to find passionate, dedicated people who see the benefits of Aspen outside of just a season or two.”

The store’s inventory has changed not only with the times over the years, but also with Aspen’s changing retail landscape, Fleischer said, estimating the clientele is a combination of 70% visitors and Aspen second-home owners, and about 30% local patrons.

“Fashion continues to evolve, and we evolve with it,” he said. “We always felt we were selling somewhat wearable clothes for a mountain ski town. And we certainly have evolved with the needs of the clientele, and in the last 15 to 20 years we’ve probably had little bit more of a balance with what I consider those wearable clothes plus wearable luxury, based on the demands of our clientele.”

Fleischer is now 74. He and his wife have two grown children who aren’t part of the store’s future plans, which are another story for another time.

“I don’t have any particular plans to close it or anything like that,” he said, adding that “I’ve been very fortunate. Some of it’s luck; it really is.”

The original version of this story misidentified the wife of store owner David Fleischer, who in fact is married to Gina Berko.


Business Monday cover: Aspen-area law firm part of $500 million Ponzi suit in aftermath of Shapiro, Woodbridge

A Roaring Fork Valley law firm and one of its attorneys are part of the ongoing fallout of convicted Ponzi scheme artist Robert Shapiro and the shuttered real estate investment firm Woodbridge Group.

Balcomb & Green PC, which has offices in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwnood Springs, is among the defendants in a civil case alleging they aided Shapiro in his $1.3 billion real estate scam. Also named in the suit is attorney Larry Green, now of counsel with the firm that has used his name since 1998.

Shapiro is a former Carbondale-area resident and the ex-CEO of Woodbridge, which before its collapse had offices in Carbondale; Boca Raton, Florida; Sherman Oaks, California; Tennessee; and Connecticut.

In an email Friday responding to a query from The Aspen Times, Green said he and the firm had no role in the scam that put Shapiro behind bars for 25 years and forced Woodbridge into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“At this time the only information I can share with you is that we have reviewed the complaint and we know that the allegations against me and Balcomb & Green are wholly without merit,” Green said. “We had absolutely no knowledge and no participation in any of the activities of the Woodbridge group of companies that led to the losses suffered by the victims described in the complaint.”

On Dec. 2, Michael Goldberg, who is the trustee in Woodbridge Group’s bankruptcy case, filed a 170-page complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court against nine law firms with presences on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the Midwest and Colorado.

“This case arises out of the $1.3 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Robert Shapiro. Shapiro’s criminal enterprise masqueraded as a real estate investment company known as the Woodbridge Group of Companies,” the suit begins.

It goes on to say that the “law firms and attorneys that are Defendants in this Complaint aided and abetted numerous securities violations and fraudulent acts. Some drafted offering documents replete with false statements that they knew were false. Some prepared negligent legal opinion memorandums to be shared with investors. Some assisted Shapiro in concealing his fraud.”

The California-based Woodbridge, which developed high-end properties in the Roaring Fork Valley, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2017. The filing came after the SEC said in October 2017 that it had launched a probe into Shapiro and Woodbridge. Dozens of Woodbridge affiliates, including some in Carbondale, also declared bankruptcy in conjunction with the flagship firm’s filing.

Last week’s lawsuit filing is part Woodbridge’s pending bankruptcy case.

The lawsuit says the Balcomb & Green firm, as well as Green individually, were retained in July 2012 “for the purposes of helping Shapiro acquire real property using Woodbridge investor funds and to put the properties into LLCs, created by Balcomb, that were controlled by and affiliated with Shapiro. Balcomb would name these LLCs with names that were designed to hide their affiliation with Shapiro.”

The firm set up at least 100 LLCs that Shapiro secretly controlled, the complaint alleges, as part of a complex scheme to defraud investors.

Both the firm and Green face civil allegations of aiding and abetting Shapiro in such transgressions as fraud, securities fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty. Among the other claims are negligent representation and professional negligence.

“We’re trying to pick up the pieces for these people and help them recover their massive — and tragic — losses,” said attorney Skip Miller, of Miller Barondess LLP in Los Angeles, in a news statement. Miller represents Goldberg, the bankruptcy trustee. “We look forward to facing the defendants in a court of law and holding them responsible for the devastating losses they helped cause.”

In October, Shapiro was sentenced in Florida to the maximum 25 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to orchestrating and leading an investment fraud scheme that ultimately swindled his mostly elderly investors out of $470 million. He also admitted to tax evasion for failing to pay more than $6 million in taxes due and owing to the IRS for calendar years 2000 through 2005.


Snowmass homeowner agrees to $4M settlement with SEC

A Snowmass homeowner has agreed to pay more than $4 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission and not trade penny stocks for 10 years as part of an agreement with the federal agreement over his alleged marijuana racket.

In a deal finalized Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in Denver, Jeffrey O. Friedland did not admit or deny the SEC’s accusations that OWC Pharmaceutical Research Corp. of Israel paid him 5.1 million shares of stock to promote the company’s marijuana without disclosing the arrangement to investors.

Yet court documents show he and his company Global Corporate Strategies consented to paying a disgorgement penalty in the amount of $2.1 million as well as $69,020 in interest to settle the case. Friedland also agreed to pay a $2 million civil fee to the SEC. Friedland signed the consent form Nov. 1; it was made public in the case Wednesday.

Friedland acquired the stocks in early 2017, and sold them in March at an average price of $1.27 per share, the SEC alleged. By doing so, Friedland reaped a profit of nearly $6.5 million, and used some of the money to buy a 2,796-square-foot Snowmass home for nearly $2 million in a cash transaction done in August 2017, the SEC alleged.

What made Friedland’s profits actually ill-gotten gains, the SEC alleged, was that he failed to publicly disclose that OWC gave him minority interest in its stock in exchange for touting it, which is against federal securities law. Friedland promoted its stock through blogs, media interviews, news releases and other mediums.

By the time the SEC sued Friedland in March 2018, the stock had dropped to 26 cents a share.

At one point during the litigation, Chief Judge Marcia S. Krieger ordered that Friedland could not sell his Snowmass Village home, located at 46 Meadow Road. The home remains under the ownership of Aspen Upper Ranch LLC, a Denver limited liability company that Friedland controls, according to Pitkin County property records.

Friedland was the featured speaker at the Aspen Business Luncheon in August 2016. The topic of his discussion was entitled “Marijuana: The World’s Most Misunderstood Plant.”


Campo de Fiori: Still growing after 25 years

This week is turning out to be one for Aspen celebrations, and it has nothing to do with the holidays or big-time sporting events on the local hills.

Hundreds of well-wishers were shoehorned into the Hotel Jerome ballroom for Klaus Obermeyer’s 100th birthday celebration Monday, and Thursday, a different locals party is on tap for another milestone — the 25th anniversary of the quaint Italian restaurant known as Campo de Fiori.

It was actually Oct. 14, 1994, when the eatery opened its doors in some subterranean space on the 300 block of East Hopkins Avenue, years before that stretch of the downtown Aspen street came to be known as “Restaurant Row” for its lively dining scene.

“But we were counting Dec. 5 so that we could do something really nice for the town,” said Campo de Fiori owner Elizabeth Plotke.

By really nice, Plotke means all menu items will be half off; the same deal will apply to bar drinks. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

“Anywhere anybody sits in the whole restaurant … we’re going to do 50 percent off for what anybody orders that day,” she said. “I know it’s something we’ll take big losses on, but it’s been the most amazing 25 years and we are such a local restaurant.”

Twenty-five years doing business in Aspen is no small feat considering the litany of obituaries for locally owned downtown restaurants in recent years: Little Annie’s. Main Street Bakery. Boogie’s Diner. Rustique Bistro. Et cetera, et cetera.

But while those and other eateries closed for various reasons — landlords raising the rent, owners wanting out or buildings being demolished — Campo de Fiori recently completed a remodeling and expansion project that included the addition of what Plotke calls a “community room” with a lower-priced, casual menu. As well, the renovation included a new bathroom, new floors, a new facade for the kitchen and new artwork throughout the interior. The community room, which flanks the bar area, added another 400 square feet of space to the restaurant.

Interior artwork was done by James Johansen of Long Island, New York.

“Town has gotten, we think, so expensive that we just want to make it approachable for all of us in town who make a local living,” she said of the community room, where prices for pasta dishes — $16 will buy a lasagna meal, for instance — rival those of another defunct Aspen restaurant locally heralded for its affordable menu: Taster’s Pizza.

Campo has a bar menu, but it’s only available during the summers and falls, Plotke said. The community room’s menu, however, will be available year-round, she said.

“For us, the person who comes in three times a week and gets a glass of wine, is — I don’t want to say more important — but that’s our local clientele,” said Plotke, who grew up in Michigan and moved to Aspen in 1992. “There are people who come to town and spend a fortune on one night, but just having this philosophy that this is a local restaurant and a community restaurant, and that can mean second-home owners, too.”

The 30-person staff also has a family feel, Plotke noted. She sang praises for Campo’s head chef of 20 years, Giuseppe Garofalo; David Ellswieg (more commonly known as “Campo Dave”), who’s been general manager for 19 years; assistant manager Duan Chaffey; bar manager Chris Michael; and waiter Zoran Seistic, the longest running employee with 24 years of serving diners. Those five employees have nearly a century of combined experience working at Campo.

“It’s very important to them that the restaurant is at its highest standards,” she said.

Plotke’s affinity for Johansen’s artwork at the restaurant is equally as glowing; she especially gets excited about his murals depicting pear trees, where the fruits look “good enough to eat,” she said.

“I’ve never painted anything like this,” said Johansen, whose friendship with Plotke goes back some 30 years. In fact, Johansen helped opened Campo 25 years ago with his artistic vision. He had been living in Aspen at the time.

“We definitely talk about the vision, but so much of it, I’d say 95 percent of it, comes from his vision, and he has this way of creating this whimsy, this romance, this richness, this comfort that is like no one else,” she said. “He just has this amazing way of expressing himself.”

Johansen said he’s been inspired during his most recent stay in Aspen, collecting some of his artistic ideas during his walks up Smuggler Mountain and other landscape. Evidence of his work is on display at Campo’s newly finished interior murals, as well as some canvas work on its walls.


Limelight Hotel in Snowmass to host village’s first part-time job fair

Over 15 employers will be hiring on the spot for part-time, seasonal, peak-season only and on-call positions on Tuesday in Snowmass.

From 3 to 7 p.m., businesses including the Timberline Condominiums, New Belgium Ranger Station, High Q marijuana dispensary and more will be at the Limelight Hotel Snowmass looking to bring on new employees during the first-ever part-time job fair.

The fair is ideal for people looking to supplement their full-time job with a part-time position, on-call or substitute work, and also is a good fit for people looking to come back to the workforce from retirement or to earn money while home during school break, according to a Snowmass Tourism news release.

The release also states employers will be looking for candidates with talent, flexibility and a desire to both make some extra income and be a part of the Snowmass Village winter experience.

For more information, visit www.gosnowmass.com/jobfair.

Business Monday Briefs: Forum Phi group lands on Outside’s ‘Best of’ list

Forum Phi Architecture + Interior Design again was on Outside magazine’s annual Best Places to Work list for the fourth consecutive year and this year was ranked second nationally in a top 50 list.

Those on the list value productivity in combination with an active, eco-conscious lifestyle, for a fulfilling experience inside and outside the office, according to the magazine’s criteria.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by Outside magazine and honored to be listed along with such great organizations across the nation,” said Steev Wilson, Forum Phi’s Founding Partner. “Our firm’s culture is based on embracing the natural beauty around us and a flexible work schedule, allowing for a solid work-life balance. That immersion allows for a boost in energy and creativity, and the effect is a better work atmosphere for our team and better design for our clients.”

Forum Phi employs 32 full-time staff with offices located in Aspen and Carbondale. In addition to standard benefits, the company offers its diverse team a variety of non-traditional perks that add to the company’s culture.

Forum Phi landed the No. 1 spot in 2016 and 2017. This was Outside’s 12th year recognizing top companies.

Other valley companies recognized by the magazine with honorable mentions include: Backbone Media in Carbondale; Bluetent, a digital agency for travel and tourism, in Carbondale; and Charles Cunniffe Architects in Aspen.

Monday Business Briefs: Aspen, Snowmass tourism up in October; new hire at Challenge Aspen

Accommodations in Aspen and Snowmass Village had a combined occupancy of 40 in October, a 1.9% improvement over October 2018, according to data released last week by Denver-based Destimetrics, which monitors resort town tourism indicators.

Aspen’s paid occupancy was 45.7% in October, while Snowmass set a new record with an occupancy of 31.4%.

As of Oct. 31, November occupancy for both Aspen and Snowmass is down 15.4%, which central reservations agency StayAspenSnowmass attributed to “Thanksgiving falling 6 days later than last year.”

Challenge Aspen taps Schalla

Challenge Aspen recently announced the hiring of Garry Schalla as its new development and marketing director.

Schalla has a background in branding, marketing, strategic planning, fundraising and sustainability, according to a press release announcing his new post.

Challenge Aspen is a nonprofit organization with a focus on impacting lives through year-round adaptive experiences for individuals faced with cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Challenge Aspen creates life-changing opportunities by encouraging participation in activities designed to redefine limits, recognize abilities, and transfer newfound courage to everyday life.

More details at challengeaspen.org.

ACRA biz awards deadline nearing

Aspen Chamber Resort Association members have until 5 p.m. Dec. 6 to submit their applications for either the 2019 ACRA Business of the Year or ACRA Nonprofit of the Year.

To be eligible to enter, businesses and organizations must have been in operations for at least three years, and previous award winners must wait at least seven years before reapplying.

The winners will be announced at the Annual Helen K. Klanderud Wintersköl™ Awards Luncheon in January.

Contact Kathryn Dziedzic at 970-920-7149 or at kdziedzic@aspenchamber.org with any questions on the program or the application process.

W residences propel Aspen-area fractional sales for first three quarters

The fractional-ownership component of the recently opened W Hotel drew $18.9 million in sales for the first three quarters of 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of Pitkin County’s fractional-sales totals through September.

The W Hotel’s opening in late August made a big splash because it marked the first opening of a luxury lodge in downtown Aspen in 25 years, with a prime location at the base of Aspen Mountain.

Along with its 88 guest rooms, the lodge also includes the Sky Residences, comprised of six three-bedroom units and five two-bedroom units. They have been marketed in one-tenth intervals; 22 of them sold through September at an average price of $659,943.

Those figures come from Denver-based Land Title Guarantee Co.’s recent market report, which also said 161 fractionals combined to sell for $61 million through September in Pitkin County, keeping pace with the first three quarters of 2017 and 2018 (see factbox).

When it comes to fractionals, the opening of the Sky Residences put it in the same rarified air as the Residence at Little Nell, Dancing Bear and the Hyatt Residence Club, as well as the Ritz-Carlton Club, said James Benvenuto of the Aspen-Snowmass office of Sotheby’s International Realty.

“I’d say with certainty in my mind that we have the best fractionals in the world,” he said, noting the Residences at Little Nell almost are in their own category.

This year’s seven sales of one-eighth fractionals at the Residences at Little Nell had an average price of $1.9 million, according to Land Title Guarantee. That added up to $13.2 million, giving it 21.7% of the market for the first nine months of this year.

It was just two years ago that some of those Little Nell residences were selling for $1.275 million, Benvenuto said.

“That’s why they’re they creme de la creme,” he said.

The report also showed 15 fractionals at the Dancing Bear sold for a collective $13.7 million from January through September, for an average price of $916,429.

“Dancing Bear elected to not allow their owners to rent because they wanted more of a private experience,” Benvenuto said, “and that’s why their sales haven’t been as robust at the Residences at Little Nell.”

Nationally, fractional sales have leveled off since the pre-Great Recession days, when sales hit their high-water mark of nearly $2 billion in 2005, according to Ragatz Associates, a consulting a market research firm in the resort real estate industry.

Last year saw $471 million in sales, down from $480 million in 2017 and $516 million in 2016, according to Ragatz Associates.

“It is still felt that the shared-ownership components will rebound in the future,” said a market report Ragatz Associates released earlier this year. “Reasons include being a concept that is based on: (1) personal use rather than speculation; (2) being able to purchase only the amount of time that have vacations to use and discretionary income to spend on; (3) lowering household spending habits and capabilities; (4) being hassle-free, i.e. ‘show up and enjoy’; and (5) the opportunity for flexibility and variety of use due to the external exchange process.”


Business Monday Briefs: Aspen Institute adds campus director; firm adds lawyer

Institute hires campus director

The Aspen Institute announced last week that Richard Stettner has been appointed vice president for Aspen Campus Facilities and Operations.

Stettner, in the newly created role, will oversee the Institute’s Aspen Meadows campus facilities and will be responsible for planning and managing all aspects of capital projects and day-to-day operations.

Stettner has nearly 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He previously served as managing director of the Aspen Skiing Co.-Limelight Hotels, where he led the opening of the Limelight Hotels in Ketchum, Idaho, and Snowmass Village. Earlier in his career, he served as the resort manager at Denver-based Exclusive Resorts and worked for Four Seasons Hotels across the U.S.

Stettner is a 10-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Holland & Hart adds Aspen attorney

Holland & Hart announced the addition of associate Kevin Giles to its Aspen office.

Giles works with real estate developers and investors in acquisition and sale transactions for a range of commercial development projects. His commercial leasing practice includes representing both landlords and tenants from national retailers to regional and local investors.

He practiced at Gorrell Giles PC, a boutique real estate firm, before joining Holland & Hart.

Monday Business Briefs: Aspen business up in September by 6.3%; TSA hiring event Wednesday

Aspen business up in September by 6.3%

Aspen retailers hauled in $62.7 million in revenue in September, a 6.3% gain over September 2018, according to a report the city’s Finance Department released last week.

For the first nine months of the year, retail sales amounting to $628.6 million are up 6.8% over the first three quarters of 2018, the report also showed.

Retail sales in September are broken down by the following industries:

• Accommodations — $15.3 million, up 4.4% over September 2018

• Restaurants/bars — $10.4 million, down 1.4%

• Sports equipment/clothing — $2.4 million, down 3.3%

• Clothing — $5 million, up 5.9%

• Food/drug — $4.7 million, up 3.8%

• Liquor — $653,984, down 18.9%

• Construction — $7.4 million, up 30.3%

• Luxury goods — $2.9 million, up 2.9%

• Utilities — $2.7 million, down 4.8%

• Automobile — $1.3 million, down 10.1%

• Marijuana — $920,030, down 1.8%

The city based its figures on sales tax collections from a total of 1,244 businesses during September, which accounts 7.1% of the city’s annual receipts.

TSA hiring event Wednesday

The Transportation Security Administration will host a one-day, “TSA Express to Hire” event from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Basalt High School to recruit full- and part-time Transportation Security Officers to work at the Aspen Pitkin County Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport.

Starting pay is $21.45 per hour at Aspen and $19.86 per hour at Eagle, according to a TSA announcement. Both jobs have opportunities for pay increases after six months. No experience is required.

The event enables individuals to participate in an accelerated hiring process by first attending an information session and then completing multiple application steps in one day. Applicants must be 18 years or older, a U.S. citizen or national, and have a high school diploma, GED or security experience equivalent. Applicants are required to have two valid forms of state or federal identification.

Applicants can apply for the positions on-site, but can apply early at https://hraccess.tsa.dhs.gov/hraccess/index.html. Call 877-872-7990 for more details.