Can Aspen open the doors to an evening of vitality? |

Can Aspen open the doors to an evening of vitality?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A coordinated evening of shopping, music and refreshments in downtown Aspen is the latest idea to come from a local retailer who’s looking for ways to rejuvenate the local economy.

Barry Gordon said he will pitch the proposal to the newly formed Aspen Retail Merchants Association at its second meeting, scheduled Aug. 5.

He envisions one night a week in which local retailers keep their doors open until 9 or 10 p.m., coupled with music students performing at not just one or two spots around town, but all over the commercial core.

If it is successful, the event could be expanded to two nights a week, said Gordon, owner of The Aspen Collection and the retail representative on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.

Gordon’s plan may hit one snag, though. He’s hoping retailers will offer light refreshments and perhaps wine to shoppers – a no-no under Colorado liquor laws.

Local galleries regularly served wine and cheese at art openings until several years ago, when the city cracked down on the consumption of alcohol on unlicensed premises in accordance with state regulations.

Gordon figures there must be a way around the prohibition.

“As far as I’m concerned, do away with it for the night,” he said. “If we’re looking for economic progress, we’ve gotta have some latitude.”

The retailers’ group could seek up to 10 special-events permits per year that could allow the serving and consumption of alcohol in a defined public area – on the malls for example, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch. Such a permit wouldn’t extend into the shops on the malls, though, she said.

The permits are issued by the city’s Special Events Committee, which Koch chairs.

Encouraging more retailers to stay open well into the evening – something they used to do – has been repeatedly mentioned in ongoing discussions about how to revitalize downtown Aspen. Various shop owners have said they don’t do enough business to justify keeping their stores staffed until 9 or 10 p.m., especially when their employees often live downvalley.

Gordon said he closes his own shop at 6 p.m.

No merchant is willing to be the sole business staying open late, but if everyone does it, it could create the critical mass necessary to make the downtown core a more inviting place to hang out after dinner, according to Gordon. He views the one night a week of nighttime activity as an experiment that can be expanded if it works.

“If everyone is open, the whole town should be crowded,” he said. “People breed people. That’s what it’s all about.

“Make that tourist feel, `Hey, this is beginning to be fun again.'”

If other merchants are willing to participate, Gordon is eyeing Thursdays for the experiment, starting Aug. 8.

Gordon initiated the formation of the Aspen Retail Merchants Association. He is sending out letters notifying shop owners of the Aug. 5 meeting and the proposal to boost evening activity. The meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room at the Aspen Square Hotel.

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