Basalt mulls its business climate

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

BASALT – Downtown Basalt shopkeepers and restaurateurs are being invited by the Chamber of Commerce and town government to express their concerns Wednesday about the current economic and business climate.

The Downtown Merchant Meeting, as it is billed, also is designed to create collaboration among business operators and to provide a glimpse into how the business climate could improve in coming years. The meeting is open to the public. It will be held at Basalt Regional Library from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

There are mixed signals about the health of the downtown core and surrounding commercial area. Two high-profile businesses, Basalt Bike and Ski as well as Bristlecone Mountain Sports, left downtown sites to rent at Willits Town Center, the blossoming commercial area where Whole Foods Market opened last summer. In addition, Total Merchant Services, which helps companies process credit-card purchases, recently announced it will close its Basalt office on May 28. It employs 140 workers.

On the other hand, retail sales showed decent growth in 2012, as reflected by town sales tax revenue. The general retail sector – composed of Basalt’s mom-and-pop shops – showed strong growth in January.

“We actually had this planned before the closure of (Total Merchant Services), but now it’s even more important,” said Heather Smith, president and CEO of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce. “We will dispel the myth that downtown Basalt is drying up and dying.”

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon will attend the meeting to listen to the concerns and to outline plans for redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, where a hotel, commercial space and a nonprofit campus are planned. Some observers see the project as vital for the town’s business community. The public-review process has barely started.

Scanlon said he believes downtown Basalt already possess much of what it needs for success. The downtown has character that many small towns covet.

“I’m telling you, everybody in America is trying to build a Midland Avenue,” he said.

Scanlon said the downtown core and commercial area across Highway 82 need more of a cohesive promotion effort among the merchants, chamber and town government.

“You need to market it better, and we need to support it better,” he said.

Scanlon took his position in late October and brings a fresh set of eyes to Basalt and its problems. When asked what he has heard from the downtown merchants, he summed it up like so: Carbondale is doing a better job of drawing attention; Basalt can never be Aspen, but it must do better than it is at holding events and creating a feel that attracts people downtown.

“I think there are concerns that business has fallen off,” Scanlon said.

So what can the town government do to help? Scanlon said planning of events should be left to the chamber and its members. The town can lend its expertise and staffing in areas such as picking up trash and closing streets – and broader public-safety and public-works affairs. It’s also traditionally been a financial contributor to special events.

Amy Forsey, chairwoman of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce board of directors and a downtown Basalt business owner, said downtown Basalt has a lot of unique shops and restaurants. It just needs to build more awareness among Roaring Fork Valley residents so it becomes a day-trip destination. Basalt needs a more effective marketing effort – which the chamber is trying to address, she said.

“We all really have great ideas,” Forsey said. “We just don’t always get together and execute it well.”