Aspen scores hometown feel |

Aspen scores hometown feel

Janet Urquhart
Shopping around for a good bargain, Rhonda Portley of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., talks with Funky Mountain Threads employee Carolina Firea while shopping along the Hyman Avenue Mall Sunday morning February 13, 2005. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Love it or hate it, Aspen’s shopping district has not slipped into what a British think tank has dubbed “Clone Town” – a collection of chain stores and nationally franchised establishments that shoppers might find in Anytown USA.Instead, the resort retains a strong mix of independent shops and restaurants, based on criteria and a scoring system developed by the London-based New Economics Foundation. The data helps determine whether a town’s main shopping district fits into the Clone Town category or the Home Town class. The latter is marked by a healthy percentage of independent shops that are unique to a locale, as opposed to a shopping district that is indistinguishable from many others.If anything, Aspen’s score puts it close to the NEF’s “Border Town” status – that transition zone between Clone Town and Home Town.Officials in Boulder recently subjected the four-block Pearl Street Mall – the heart of the city’s shopping district – to the NEF survey. The mall’s score, 39.3, lands it in the Home Town range, noted Jane Jenkins, who oversees Boulder’s Business Improvement District. She was here last month and discussed the Clone Town/Home Town test with members of Aspen’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission.While the NEF suggests surveying a town’s “high street” – the equivalent of the commercial Main Street in a typical U.S. town or small city – The Aspen Times put Aspen’s commercial core to the test, tallying up the various businesses located between Main Street and Durant Avenue, and from Monarch to Spring streets. Downtown Aspen scored 39.5 – virtually the same score the vibrant Pearl Street Mall produced, though the collection of stores, offices and restaurants in the two locales is markedly different.According to the NEF, anything below a score of about 26 puts a retail core in the Clone Town category. From about 26 to 36 is Border Town, and anything higher is a Home Town score.”I think anytime you get over the Border Town scale, you get on that Home Town scale, you’re good,” Jenkins said.She embraces a mix of chain stores and independent retailers in Boulder. She recently helped lure a Lush store to the city after encountering one in Europe because she thought it would fit in well with Boulder’s retail environment. The maker of handmade cosmetics and soaps, which also opened a store in Aspen shortly before Christmas, is undoubtedly a chain, though.”I think it’s good to have a mix of chains and locals,” Jenkins said.Aspen boasts a number of shops that aren’t unique solely to the resort, but they’re pretty close. Some are locally owned, some aren’t. The downtown abounds with stores that exist here and perhaps only in one or two other locales. In other words, they’re not the ubiquitous retail chains that one can find in virtually any city in the United States or abroad.”There are chains and then there are chains,” as Jenkins put it.Roots, a clothing store with a presence in Aspen, operates in 124 locations. The jewelry store Black Pearl, on the other hand, has stores only in Aspen and on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Pet shop C.B. Paws exists solely in Aspen and Denver. Under Amour, selling performance apparel, has stores in Aspen and Baltimore. Don’t look for it at the Mall of America.Jenkins, who wandered about Aspen during her visit, offered praise for the ambiance of the resort’s downtown, but noted not many local businesses have a uniquely “Aspen” feel.”What independent businesses you have – I could almost say this about Boulder, too – there wasn’t much of a local flair to it,” she said.On the other hand, as a visitor, Jenkins wasn’t bothered by the high-end boutiques – Prada, Polo Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior and such – that rankle a segment of the local populace.”You have interesting chains,” she said.”I felt as though I was walking through InStyle magazine. It was cool,” she said. “From the outsider’s perspective, I thought it was kinda fun.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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