Alley-OOP! |


Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When a pair of retail consultants suggested Aspen use its alleyways to let startup businesses set up shop and boost the vibrancy of the resort’s shopping experience, Annette Docimo could only grin.

She’s already there. In the alley, that is.

If location is everything, her Back Alley Gallery isn’t anything to brag about. Not only is the shop about midway down an alley dotted with trash containers and uninviting back doors, it’s on the second floor. Shoppers would not only have to be lost, they’d have to look up to notice it.

And, yet, they’ve managed to find it. And, they’re delighted when they do ” as though they’ve stumbled across a true Aspen secret.

“The people who find me, they think it’s such a prize,” Docimo said.

The gallery’s front door is located off the east-west alley that runs between Mill and Galena streets, north of Hyman. (Look for the gallery’s sign, affixed to the balcony railing).

Docimo was looking for office space, first and foremost, when she leased what had been a cozy, second-floor studio apartment at the rear of the building that houses Curious George Collectibles on the Hyman Avenue mall. But inside the space, there was room for much more than a desk, telephone and computer. So she purchased enough pieces of art to open a small gallery there, too. Now she’s a wholesaler of glass artwork produced by various artists.

“I figured if I have to sit here and do my work, I might as well surround myself with stuff I really like,” she said.

Clients she keeps in contact with seek out the gallery, but the occasional stray shopper wanders in as well.

Aspen’s alleys have great potential as a low-cost alternative to the high-rent street-front stores in the downtown core, according to Docimo. A pair of consultants hired by the city came to much the same conclusion, suggesting an “incubator alley” where startup shops could line the back walls of buildings with merchandise and sell their wares.

“If people knew we were starting to generate business in the alleys, they’d walk in the alleys,” Docimo said. “It makes it affordable for somebody trying to do something like this.”

When she checked out office space elsewhere in the core, Docimo encountered rents ranging from $2,500 to $6,000 per month. In her space off a second-floor balcony, accessed by a stairway that takes a moment’s searching to find, she’s paying less than $1,000, she said.

“So far, I’ve paid my rent,” she added.

Curious George has helped out by placing a few of the handblown glass flowers she carries in its very visible front window on the mall. Shoppers who inquire about the creations are directed out back.

Docimo’s background is in the restaurant business with her husband, Fino, but seven years of work at the now-defunct Highline Gallery in Aspen, which specialized in glass art, kindled her passion for the fragile art form and taught her the business from the ground up.

“When I started at Highline, it was a new adventure for me. I’d never done high-end retail,” she said. “I got to meet a8ll the artists … I really liked dealing with them and I really liked selling their work.”

After Highline closed, Docimo spent a stretch as the day manager for The Colony restaurant. She still handles the accounting for both the restaurant and the adjacent Popcorn Wagon, and thinks it would be fun to open a back-alley bistro or cafe in conjunction with a shop. That’s not in the plans for now, though.

Although Incubator Alley is little more than an idea, it’s hardly a new one, points out Docimo, a regular visitor to the tucked-away treasures of Europe.

“I never shop on the main streets,” Docimo said. “You always go to the open-air markets, you always shop on the back-alley streets, you always eat in the back-alley restaurants.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is