Cut out the cancer
July 19, 2002
My gallery is in its 10th year in Aspen. Earlier in my life I was in real estate in Soho and Tribeca in New York when they were just being developed as upscale shopping and living addresses so I have some perspective on the retail situation here.
All my business life I have been a “bottom line guy,” and so I look at downtown Aspen from my particular vantage point and I ask myself what is the bottom line behind the problems in this town. And there are many, many problems, too numerous to entertain here.
I conclude that at the very heart of things are the obscene rents that are the norm in this town, given the retail climate here. Alan Greenspan’s description of corporate America these days describes perfectly the commercial real estate scene in Aspen: “infectious greed.”
From this core problem, I believe, most of the rest of our problems stem. In my opinion commercial rents are completely out of touch with the business realities in this town and rents have to come down if this town is to endure.
Changing zoning is all well and good, but somehow the powers that be in this town need to find a way to get the rents down, even if it means commercial rent control of some sort. I’m a believer in the marketplace and I think that, ultimately, the realities of the marketplace will force rents down.
But if we have to wait for the marketplace to make this happen, there will be a lot of pain before things get better. I can think of many other issues here, another being that for the most part locals do not support local business in Aspen.
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How many times at local social functions have I heard someone I know to be a full-time local say “I never shop in Aspen, I avoid the place like the plague.”
This is not the forum for going into this issue too deeply, but I sincerely believe that here, too, is another big problem that stems directly from the fact that rents in town are out of line with the business reality here, and stores that might satisfy the needs of full-time locals (like Ozzie’s) no longer exist, and can’t exist in the future given the state of things.
For example, why isn’t there a dance club for locals under 21? There are so many of them with nothing to do at night, and in any sane place there would be a club such as this to satisfy a very strong local need and it would be a big success. Not in Aspen, because if you can’t sell alcohol, you can’t pay the rent.
I often wonder what other successful and unique businesses we might have here if the commerical rent structure matched the realities of the marketplace.
In yesterday’s paper covering the meeting of the new retailers association (which I applaud, though I could not attend), some real estate person was quoted as saying, “We don’t want to polarize the community.” I think that’s exactly what we want to do. When there’s a cancer you cut it out or you die.