Aspen’s Mill Street businesses find way to survive
ASPEN Three businesses that recently found themselves facing what were rumored to be steep rent increases at Aspens Mill Street Commercial Center have found three separate ways to stay open. In June 2007, the 20,000 square foot building was purchased for $13.3 million by a group of investors led by Aspen attorney Andy Hecht. Notices sent to tenants in August 2007 gave them the option to sign a new three-year contract with a rent increase as high as 30 percent, or let their current leases expire at the end of October, 2008. Businesses were reportedly given just a few days to decide. This year, tenants who declined to sign last year’s lease were told they must pay a lump sum before signing a new lease and take a rent increase.Three of the business operators who chose not to sign leases last year Green Dry Cleaning and Laundry, the Art of Fitness, and Replay Sports still weren’t sure what they were going to do as October marched on. But as November rolled around, all three had employed separate strategies to stay standing.
Ryan Chadwick, owner of Green Dry Cleaning and Laundry, the only Laundromat in town, plans to stay in his space at Mill Street. He recently signed a two-year lease and hopes ultimately to stay even longer. Ideally, we want to stay as long as possible, but we want to make sure we can afford to stay here, he said. Although he is aware that those who purchased the building would like to redevelop it, he expected that redevelopment might still be four or five years away, given the current lending market. In order to meet his increased rent, Chadwick plans to squeeze a Budget Blinds showroom into 250 square feet of his current dry-cleaning space. The franchise will sell blinds, pillows, designer rugs, and window coverings.Chadwick said he believes the window-coverings showroom will be a perfect match for the Laundromat, noting that customers constantly walk through the space to drop off and pick up dry-cleaning. And because he already has a small blind-installation business, he already has the installation staff and equipment, he said. Chadwick also hopes to pick up some large local laundry accounts by promoting his companys green dry-cleaning techniques. He recently picked up a laundry account from the Limelight Lodge, for example. He does not plan to raise prices, he said. He does, however, plan to start replacing his aging machines with new ones now that he has some certainty about the businesss future. Chadwick said he decided to stay, in part, because moving the Laundromat would have been difficult given its particular needs. A Laundromat/dry-cleaning business must be in an area zoned service-commercial-industrial, he said so he can’t just move the business into a retail space. In addition, he must have 23 taps to run his washing machines, and each tap has a $2,800 start-up fee with the Aspen Water Department. The taps are not transferable between buildings, so it would have cost him over $54,000 just to make sure he had water for his laundry machines at a new building. He also pointed to the easy parking at Mill Street, noting that his dry-cleaning clients often have to park and run in just for five minutes and they don’t want to have to park blocks away. Chadwick argued that keeping the Laundromat at Mill Street is not only good for him, but also good for Aspen. If he had moved his business out of town, all those without laundry would be forced to drive 20 minutes to Basalt, he noted. He added that there would be no place for tourists to drop off their laundry; many, he said, take advantage of his wash and fold service.
The Art of Fitness, a Pilates studio, made the opposite decision: It moved. At the last minute, proprietor Denise Searle was able to rent an open unit at Obermeyer Place.Although she looked for a year, Searle really struggled to find a space, she said. Either landlords didn’t call her back, or the rent was too expensive, or the space wasn’t open enough for a studio, she said. She thought about moving to the Airport Business Center, but worried she would lose clients if the studio was that far from the center of town. We were scared. It was scary for us, she said. [But] if you put the energy out therethings fall into place. She signed the new lease at Obermeyer Place on Nov. 1, she said and started moving on Nov. 2. Katie Reed Property Management, which manages the Mill Street building, kindly allowed her to move slowly and pay just for the days she was still operating in that building.We really didn’t close down for one day, because I couldn’t afford to, she said. Searle said that Katie Reed had been willing to give her a two-year lease, but the lease had a clause that allowed an eviction with 60 days notice. She said she preferred moving now to dealing with the anxiety of not knowing when she might lose her business space even though the rumor is that the building wont be remodeled for five or six years. That’s what everyone is banking on in that building, she said. I’m just not a risk-taker.She also worried about the much-higher rent for a new lease at Mill Street. The numbers were such a stretch for us, she said. But even at Obermeyer Place, her rent is higher than it originally was at Mill Street. She has met the increased cost by raising her personal training rates by $10 an hour and adding group classes, which have brought in a new clientele. And now she has an eight-year lease and a great landlord, she said.We’re basically very happy and lucky to be where we are, she said. Brad Jasicki, owner of Replay Sports signed a lease for the winter, he said though he hopes to ultimately stay longer. He’s taking a wait-and-see approach to figure out if he can meet the increased rent with increased sales, he said. He noted that he can’t really raise prices, since eBay has created what he terms an international price guide for used gear. The business only works if I sell stuff cheap, he said. So to make ends meet, he plans to travel to more gear swaps. In fact, Friday he spoke from a ski swap in Telluride. He also reorganized the store in order to fit more equipment. And this winter he’ll be working more in the store himself, he said. I’m going to definitely have to be the main employee and its going to be hard to have employees, he said. But he said he felt it was important to stay at Mill Street because Aspenites are used to buying consignment gear there. Replay Sports has been in that space for six years, he said, and Use it Again was there for 10 years before that. Jasicki also appreciates the parking, noting that people can pull in and drop off gear for consignment without much hassle. So for now, he is happy to be able to stay open, enabling both kids and adults to pick up a new sport for a price they might able to afford. Just this week, he said, he’s seen lots of parents come into the store to see if they can buy affordable hockey equipment, because their child wants to play. When their parents realize they can get a full hockey set-up for $200 instead of $1000 he said. That makes me so happy. In the meantime, no tenants appear to have moved into any of the four vacant spaces at the Mill Street Commercial Center. Representatives from Katie Reed Property Management did not return a phone call regarding the building. email@example.com
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