Arts fair brings mixed reviews |

Arts fair brings mixed reviews

Last weekend’s art festival at Wagner Park drew scores of people into downtown Aspen, but the event drew mixed reviews from local merchants.Some business owners reported an upswing in business, some saw none at all; some were pleased to see the crowds wandering through town, and others questioned the wisdom of creating yet more competition for the tourist dollar.The Aspen Chamber Resort Association produced the fair along with Howard Alan Events, which has coordinated a similar fair in Beaver Creek for the past six years.While ACRA President Hana Pevny said she fielded calls from apprehensive merchants before the event, the feedback afterward had all been positive on Monday.”I’ve gotten incredible feedback,” she said. “I’ve gotten e-mails, I’ve gotten voice mails.”City Hall even received a call from someone praising the event, said Mayor Helen Klanderud.”I think it was a very successful weekend,” she said. “There were so many people in town this weekend and so much going on.”In fact, the first weekend in August is typically one of the busiest of the summer in terms of hotel and lodge bookings, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency.How many of the visitors were lured by the arts fair or simply strolled through the park because they were already here is difficult to say, resort officials concede, though Klanderud said she ran into people from Summit County who came specifically for the event.”We are in a very busy month,” Pevny said, “but I can also tell you that we did a tremendous amount of advertising on the Front Range.”Neither the Ute Mountaineer nor Pitkin County Dry Goods, both with locations near the park, reported any noticeable jump in sales during the arts fair, but restaurants appeared to be hopping, several observers noted. No food or drink was sold in the park.”It made a difference for us. We did very, very well. We did much better this weekend than we did this same weekend last year,” said `Wabs’ Walbert, owner/manager of The Red Onion. “It’s the kind of thing we need to make some energy in town for us.””Anything to draw more people into town is good for business,” agreed Keith Hatanaka, general manager of Bentley’s, a bar/restaurant. “It was a zoo downtown. It seemed busier than the Fourth of July weekend.””There were a gazillion people in town. The mall was full,” agreed Ginger Swenson, owner of the Aspen Mountain Gallery on the Hyman Avenue mall.Having more than 150 arts and crafts vendors in the park, however, did little to improve business at Swenson’s gallery. In fact, it may have hurt it, she said, but she praised the event nonetheless.”It was great to see all the people in town.”David Floria, whose own art gallery is located a stone’s throw from the park, said he prefers high-end events like the Aspen Food & Wine Magazine Classic, held each June in the park. The arts fair didn’t draw the patrons who would bring him business.”I’m not sure that that kind of kind of an art fair really benefits the retailers and art galleries in town,” he said. “It’s a lower-priced, lesser-quality competition.”Randy Scott, owner of Rare Optiks on the Hyman mall, didn’t see a boost in business as a result of the fair and suspects the crowds may have kept high-end customers away.”It’s a mixed blessing, I’d have to guess,” he said. “I think it gave good vitality to the downtown. My knee-jerk reaction is, it was probably good for the town.”On the other hand, Rasol Noori said business was booming at his shop, making it one of the best weekends of the summer. Even one of the vendors at the fair bought a couple of Noori’s oriental rugs.”For us, it was great,” he said. “It was so busy Saturday.”Another longtime retailer, however, questioned why the ACRA would produce an event that competes with merchants who must meet the challenges of doing business here day-in and day-out.”If they want to bring more people, they can bring more people, not more businesses,” complained the shop owner, who asked not to be identified.The arts vendors did buy temporary business licenses in order to set up shop in Aspen for the weekend, and they were required to pay sales taxes, according to the chamber. How much the fair generated in sales for vendors at the park is not something the city finance office can calculate until the reporting deadline has passed.Special events in general, however, have been pegged by some in the community as something Aspen should be doing more of in hopes of bringing more people to town.”I’d rather see it in late August, early June or September, when we really need it,” said David Fleisher, owner of Pitkin County Dry Goods.The timing of the arts fair, though, wasn’t entirely in the chamber’s control. The vendors were already coming to Colorado for the Beaver Creek fair, so the ACRA worked to bring the event here first in order to capture shoppers who might otherwise go there, Pevny said.The chamber will also bring a Decorative Arts and Antiques Fair to Paepcke Park on Sept. 25-28 and the second annual Cocktail Classic will take place Oct. 3 at Whiskey Rocks.The chamber is also working on the Aspen/Snowmass Photo Challenge, tentatively planned in mid-September.[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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