Aspen Saturday Market vendors say they’re not out to hurt retailers
Dozens of Aspen Saturday Market vendors appeared at Monday night’s City Council work session to express their desires to have a healthy relationship with downtown retailers instead of working against them.
The merchants showed up in response to complaints from retailers who claim they are cannibalizing their business during the 18 Saturdays the market is held during the summer and a portion of the spring and fall.
“Everybody here is an ambassador for the city,” one market vendor told the council, adding that they “constantly” tell their customers about Aspen’s best restaurants and stores and other shopping tips.
The vendors said they can’t afford a brick-and-mortar space like the retailers who say they are hurting their business, and the market serves as their livelihood during the summer.
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The Saturday Market completed its 18th season in downtown Aspen on a three-block stretch downtown. The more than 80 vendors combined for sales of $1.6 million this summer, compared with the $150,000 in its inaugural year, said members of the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, which manages the leases for the non-agricultural booths. The city’s deputy clerk, Kathy Strickland, supervises the operations of the market.
The market also has grown in size and in the number of vendors. This year there were 17 agricultural vendors, 57 artisans, seven existing businesses and three food vendors.
Jeweler Ross Andrews, who has both a downtown location and was a merchant at the market this summer, asked that the city allow more Aspen stores to participate in the market “so they can draw business to their locations. It’s a very powerful tool that should be available to those who collect sales taxes year round and pay rent year round.”
Like Andrews, Brad Matthews, who runs the Ajax Donuts stand on East Hyman Avenue, had a booth at the market this summer.
“We compete against ourselves every Saturday, and we still find Saturday a very, very busy day at the Popcorn Wagon (where Ajax Donuts does business),” he said.
The Aspen Chamber Resort Association, however, wants the city to do a detailed analysis on how much business the market brings and its economic impact. ACRA was acting in response to its members, some of whom voiced their concerns to City Council at a September City Council meeting.
“What the economic impact is couldn’t hurt anyone,” ACRA President Debbie Braun said.
Braun said the market could provide clarity to its mission and purpose, whether it is by launching its own website and offering city maps with local shopping and dining tips to patrons, among other improvements.
ACRA sent out a survey in October to its 655 members about the market. One of the survey’s findings was that ACRA members want to see more agricultural booths at the market, and not as many crafts and jewelry vendors.
Terry Butler, who sits on the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, said the artisans at the market are local, and they are given priority based on where they are from. In other words, the closer they are to Aspen, the better chance they have of getting a lease.
The council appeared open to some of the ideas presented by ACRA, but its members stood firm that the Aspen Saturday Market will continue to operate. In doing so, they agreed to renew its lease for another five years.
“It’s a huge boon to this community,” said Councilman Adam Frisch, adding, “I think anybody would be crazy to try to get rid of it. The idea is to make a vibrant Saturday Market, and the more vibrant, the better.”
Braun said that isn’t ACRA’s intention.
“By no means does anybody want to shut this down,” she said, adding that ACRA’s goal is to help it be “a vibrant market moving forward.”
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