A cloudy future for some Aspen niche service shops
Housing nearly 20 businesses — including a bike shop, a coin-operated laundromat, shipping services and a steel welder — the North Mill Street Commercial Center provides some of the last service-oriented businesses of their kind in Aspen. But many of those shop owners have little confidence that they will be able to remain on North Mill.
Chris McLaughlin, who fixes appliances at Aspen Repair, said he anticipates a major redevelopment project from the owners — a collection of seven limited-liability companies headed by such Aspen businessmen as Andrew Hecht, Ronald Garfield and Steven Hansen, who bought the property in 2007. Rather than deal with the uncertainty, McLaughlin is moving his 41-year-old operation to the Aspen Business Center.
He said he was recently offered a 14-month lease to stay at Mill but he opted out, saying such a short-term agreement offers little security. Messages left for Garfield & Hecht lawyer Natasha Saypol, a representative for the building owners, as well as Pyramid Property Advisors, which manages the space, were not immediately returned Wednesday.
John Francis, who works with steel and wood in his shop, said many of the businesses wouldn’t survive such a move, pointing out that no one wants to drive downvalley for services like dry cleaning or tire repair.
“In Aspen, this is the last dirt-under-fingernails working environment,” Francis said. “This town is a symbiotic circle and without an area designated to commercial work, we’re one step closer to becoming Beaver Creek or Vail … and I think Aspen is more than that.”
He said this particular location is best suited for its current use.
About six months ago, city planners met with business owners to explore the idea of re-zoning the North Mill Commercial Center, Aspen’s last piece of Service-Industrial-Commericial zoning, located across the street from Clark’s Market. Seeing how unpopular the idea was with shop owners, Community Development director Chris Bendon said the city decided to leave it alone. He hasn’t seen any formal requests from the owner to redevelop the dilapidated brick structure, either.
But Scott Kendrick, owner of Millennium Pack & Ship, said an overhaul is inevitable, adding that he’s not pointing fingers at anybody; he just wants what’s best for the community. Kendrick’s manager Shane Allen said they provide a valuable service to Aspen, with smaller shipping trucks that can maneuver mountain roads. Allen said relocation is not viable because there is nowhere else in town to park their fleet.
Alex Dicharry, an aviation mechanic who owns Aspen Motoworx, fixes snowmobiles, dirt bikes, motorcycles and other vehicles, for an estimated 1,650 clients. He’s currently working on a Ford Model T. “We got a really good thing going,” Dicharry said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to keep it going, including helping Garfield & Hecht and those guys out, trying to keep the place clean and make it viable for them.”
If he was forced to move, he said, the operation would look into space at the ABC, like McLaughlin.
McLaughlin has a five-year agreement at his new location, which provides more space at a lower cost than his current space. He said it will allow for a more efficient operation, creating shorter wait times for customers. Most of McLaughlin’s clientele are local homemakers or maids who need vacuum cleaners and other appliances repaired. Like his operation, a lot of the other businesses serve niche groups.
“The case can be made that a lot of these businesses are marginal,” McLaughlin said. “But almost everyone I talk to, mostly locals, want this type of setup down here.”
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