Aspen retailers form lobbying group |

Aspen retailers form lobbying group

ASPEN ” A group of local retailers is forming a coalition aimed at wielding more influence with City Hall and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA).

Dozens of Aspen retail owners and operators filled City Council Chambers on Tuesday at a meeting of the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission (CCLC). The meeting was billed as a brainstorming session on how to boost Aspen commerce this summer against the backdrop of a national recession. The gathering evolved into retailers voting unanimously to form a lobbying organization they can call their own.

As ACRA representatives announced some of its strategies to bolster business in the coming months, retailers expressed frustrations that the chamber is not addressing their specific needs.

Two of ACRA’s biggest promotions this summer include a fourth night free with participating lodges, 50 percent-off Wednesdays, and a summer “pass” that entitles visitors to various discounts throughout Aspen and Snowmass.

The chamber has two retail representatives on its board of directors, and 116 of its 866 members are retail establishments, said ACRA President Debbie Braun.

Even so, some retailers vented at ACRA for not giving them as much of a voice as other sectors like lodging and restaurants.

“You can sit here and be angry,” Braun told retailers, “but we need to move forward.”

And that’s apparently what some of the retailers are doing. At the encouragement of CCLC chairperson Terry Butler, retailers agreed to form what will be called the Aspen Retail Association.

“You have to have an organization that addresses your needs,” Butler said.

CCLC member Andrew Kole wondered aloud how effective the new group will be.

“I don’t know how you are going to get [landlords] Steve Marcus, Tony [Mazza] and [Andrew] Hecht to lower their rents,” he said.

Following the ACRA meeting retailers gathered for more than 30 minutes ” with Braun in attendance ” to discuss the group’s mission.

There are some issues they agree are worth addressing ” such as lobbying landlords to devise some type of rent break, and arguing to the City Council about the backlash paid parking has on business. But those aren’t immediate goals, they said.

“We can’t just organize and hit the landlords right out of the box,” said Kenny Smith of Meridian Jewelers.

Instead, the retailers decided to have another meeting at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the Sister Cities Room of City Hall to get better organized. They also plan to ask neighboring retail tenants to join.

The group will be restricted to retailers only ” meaning owners and operators of restaurants and lodges won’t be allowed to join.

An exception was made for Butler, the CCLC chair who also runs the Residence Hotel in downtown Aspen.

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