Aspen stores make claims against ‘carpetbaggers’

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

A local jeweler and an art-gallery owner asked the Aspen City Council for help Monday in battling what one of them referred to as high-season carpetbaggers.

Citing ads in local newspapers that claim to auction seized assets, Galerie Maximillian owner Albert Sanford said the pop-up retailers in question come and go from Aspen in a matter of days in July and December, leeching millions of dollars in sales from local stores. He claimed that companies like Beverly Hills, California-based Revolver Auctions, which offers work from pop artists like Andy Warhol, are misrepresentative, as most of the items are not seized assets “if you read the fine print.”

“I believe they’re leaking millions of dollars off businesses that frankly work pretty hard to survive in a short two seasons,” Sanford said, adding that he pays brick-and-mortar overhead. “These are carpetbaggers.”

Among Sanford’s concerns are false advertising, signage violations and the question of local sales taxes. These companies typically spend a few days in Aspen at a time auctioning off items. Revolver held an auction this year just after Valentine’s Day at the St. Regis Hotel, according to its website.

Councilman Adam Frisch said he’s not sure how much the city can do to stop a private hotel or ballroom from holding space, but it’s worth a discussion to see what can be done for Aspen’s full-time businesses.

Mayor Steve Skadron encouraged Sanford to engage Aspen Chamber Resort Association member Riley Tippet to find the appropriate business equation. He said it’s not unlike the situation where food trucks come into town and upset local restaurant owners.

City Attorney Jim True said it is his experience that outside vendors typically do get business licenses and pay local sales taxes, but there are concerns that can be addressed, including signage-code requirements. Jim Pomeroy, code enforcer for the Community Development Department, equated addressing signage-code violations to whack-a-mole but said the city continues to monitor that issue. If the city wishes, it also can investigate the legality of auctions at local hotels, True said.

Frisch said local retailers have proof of financial pain. Don Stone, owner of Pierre-Famille, an Aspen jewelry store, said he is affected by antique shows held at the Aspen Ice Garden, where the 12th annual Aspen Antiques and Fine Arts Fair was held this year from July 2 to 8. Stone claims that during that week, Pierre-Famille had zero sales.

Exhibitors listed for the event hail from Aspen, Vail, Avon, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and London, among other cities. The Aspen Antiques and Fine Arts Fair donates some of its proceeds to the Shining Stars Foundation, according to its website.

Stone asked why Aspen needs 20 additional jewelers during the second-highest-grossing week of the year. He suggested that permits be approved based on the question of whether the activity negatively impacts local business. He also suggested holding the fair in the spring or fall.

“We’ll work on it,” Skadron said.