Aspens favorite illegal |

Aspens favorite illegal

Willoughby Collection Three baby-boomer squatters relax, circa 1945, on the Mill Street lot that became Magnifico Liquors in Aspen. The alley entrance to Magnificos Outfitter is behind them.

In the early days of skiing, a ski area required a ski repair shop. A ski shop required a shoemaker. Aspen required Mike Magnifico.Magnifico opened Mike the Outfitter, Aspens first ski shop, in the Collins building next to what was then Aspen Supply. He also leased the second floor, where he lived and rented apartments to seasonal employees and tourists. He later changed the store name to Magnifico Sports Shop.Back then, ski shops sold clothing and equipment but advice and repair were their most salient services. Most skiers were new to the sport and needed expert guidance on ski length, waxing and equipment maintenance. As founding members of the Aspen Ski Club in 1938, Mike and his wife, Maggie, became early masters of the sport.Maggie Magnifico, an Aspen native, lived with her family in a small cabin in the Little Annie Basin, where her father worked as a miner. She graduated from Aspen High school in the 1920s.Leather ski boots were primitive compared to todays fiberglass standards. The stresses of skiing brought about numerous repair needs and shortened boot life. Mike Magnificos specialty was boot repair. His background as a shoemaker enabled him to make boots from scratch, and to modify them for skiing use.Magnifico Sports Shop offered familiar ski clothing brands: Marjorie Benedikter, Sun Valley and White Stag. Mike sold Spaulding, Groswold and Attenhofer skis and Henke ski boots. Ice skates rounded out his winter wares. In the summer he sold fishing equipment.A third of the store space was devoted to repair and rental. The fragrance of hot wax greeted customers, along with the less pleasant odor of toxic glue. Wood-laminated skis required frequent gluing. The introduction of metal edges created new repair needs when the hard edges separated from the wood skis.A town crisis developed when Magnifico encountered problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Although he was exposed as an illegal immigrant from Canada, Mike remained one of Aspens most popular citizens. The business community immediately recognized that Magnificos deportation threatened ski season revenues.Nate Feinsinger came to the rescue. Feinsinger was a member of the Madison (Wis.) Ski Club, one of several clubs that formed the foundation for Aspens winter business. As an attorney ( and dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School), Feinsinger helped Magnifico navigate through immigration law and win a reprieve. Feinsinger split residence with his family between Madison and Aspen. He later served on the founding board of the Aspen Music Festival.Aspens sports shops and skiers multiplied. Magnifico branched out to open a liquor store on the same Mill Street block. He sold the sports store to Sandy Sabbatini, passing on the art of ski sales to the next generation.

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.

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