Aspen a dog town? City puts muzzle on Clark’s workers | AspenTimes.com

Aspen a dog town? City puts muzzle on Clark’s workers

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pet the dog, check the groceries, get fined by the health department.

That’s the new reality at Clark’s Market in Aspen, where dogs sitting out in front of the store, or just inside the door, have often been petted and given treats by the employees working the checkout counters.

But no more.

After the City of Aspen Environmental Health Department got several complaints, Clark’s was warned in March that according to state law, dogs cannot be inside the store. And the law states “while on duty, persons employed in the food operational areas of a retail food establishment shall not care or handle any pets, or patrol/sentry dogs.”

“It’s a health issue,” said Clark’s Market manager Tony Welgos. “They can’t go out there and pet the dog and then handle the food.”

Several longtime employees at Clark’s have taken to greeting the dogs that often position themselves just outside the exit at Clark’s. Sometimes the dogs get a friendly pat, sometimes they get a treat.

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Some locals see it as a nice small-town touch.

“It’s a dog town,” said James Johansen, an artist in Aspen. “All the dogs sit outside of Clark’s and wait for their owners. There is something sweet about it. When I go shopping, they say hello to my dog.”

But others find the close connection between a dog’s head and their groceries offensive.

“I’ve gotten citizen complaints,” said Jannette Whitcomb, a senior environmental health specialist with the city of Aspen. “And while a checker is not considered under the food regulations a true food handler, if they go out and handle dogs, they should still go wash their hands.”

And Clark’s has let its employees know in no uncertain terms that petting dogs, or letting customers bring dogs in, is strictly against the rules. Store officials also have said employees will pay any fines levied by the city’s Environmental Health Department, which can run between $250 and $500.

“They’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Whitcomb of the checkers at Clark’s. “It’s not unheard of for a manager or an owner of a restaurant to say they have to pay the fine if they don’t change their habits.”

And the change also means that little dogs can no longer go shopping with “Mommykins.”

“The citizen who complained also saw toy dogs in carts in the grocery store, and that’s been a problem,” said Whitcomb.

While few might argue with the idea of grocery clerks having clean hands, Johansen sees the new rules as just another sign that Aspen is getting uptight.

“There is one particular woman who is complaining,” he said. “I guess her complaint was that if you touch the dog and then touch the produce … but I pet the dogs before I go into Clark’s and then I handle produce.”

Which raises the point that grocery store produce is in a public arena.

“No matter what, when you get home, you should wash your produce,” said Whitcomb. “And if you pet a dog, you should wash your hands before you eat. And you should really refrain from kissing dogs. Dogs are not clean; they are a real source of giardia.”

But for Johansen, the anti-dog warning is another small blow to Aspen’s laid-back feel.

“It just seems silly. It’s just a friendly little corner there,” he said. “Now they have to send the dogs away.”