End of an era: Explore sells for $4.6 million
ASPEN The sale of Explore Booksellers and Bistro closed Monday afternoon for $4.6 million, ending an era that began in 1975 when Katharine Thalberg founded the Aspen business. Sagacity LLC, an entity controlled by Sam and Cheryl Wyly, acquired the bookstore and restaurant, as well as the Victorian building they occupy. It marked the latest addition to billionaire family’s stable of local concerns, including a 245-acre ranch in Woody Creek. The $4.6 million purchase price included $4.4 million for the property itself and $200,000 for the vegetarian restaurant and bookstore operation, said real estate broker Cynthia Milling, who represented the Wylys in the purchase.The 4,922-square-foot building and business had been listed for $5.2 million since September -some nine months after Thalberg died in January 2006. When the bookstore went on the market it sparked public concern that the new buyer would not preserve it as a bookstore, which occupies a historic building zoned for mixed uses. “They are keeping all of the employees and it will be business as usual,” said broker Karen Setterfield, who, with Carrie Wells, worked with the sellers – Thalberg’s three daughters, who became majority owners when she died.Two of those daughters, Brooke and Ashley Anderson, were at the store hours before the sale closed. Brooke declined comment, referring questions to Wyly family spokesman Travis Carter of Dallas.”Our family has been involved in a number of philanthropic and business ventures in the Aspen area,” Sam Wyly said in a statement Carter e-mailed to The Aspen Times. “It has always been clear to us that this bookstore is a unique place, so it is a special opportunity for us to complete the sale and help continue the tradition of this business.”Wyly also said that no changes are planned for Explore. The Wyly family, one of the biggest supporters of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, has been known not only for its philanthropic efforts, but also its large contributions to conservative political campaigns and candidates. Thalberg was a liberal activist and a lightning rod for controversy in Aspen, as evidenced by her campaign to ban the selling of furs here.Regardless, Sam Wyly said, “We will be good stewards of Katharine Thalberg’s legacy. We like the bookstore the way it is and didn’t want to see it disappear. The most valuable thing about the bookstore and bistro are the people who work there.”He added: “We have more than a dozen family members who regard this bistro as their favorite vegetarian restaurant.”Broker Milling said Sam Wyly and Brooke Anderson exchanged hugs after the deal closed.”He said, ‘Brooke, your mother’s legacy is safe with us,'” Milling said. Thalberg’s widower, Bill Stirling, said the changing of hands was bittersweet, namely because the store was an Aspen institution his wife founded.”For me it’s a very poignant moment,” the former Aspen mayor said last night. “It’s the end of my direct involvement with Explore, which I have had for many, many years. What offsets that poignancy is that it’s still a bookstore.”Before they Wyly family entered the picture – it was announced in January they had the building and business under contract to purchase – Stirling had formed a group of potential suitors for Explore. Among them were Explore employees and others.”I submitted an offer on behalf of others, about 10 people,” Stirling said. The offer, which he would not disclose, could not compete with the amount of money the Wylys brought to the table, Stirling said. Stirling said he is confident the Wyly family will uphold the legacy Thalberg left, most importantly the vast inventory of literary offerings chain stores don’t carry.”Explore is so much about its collection,” he said. “That’s what sets it apart from the chain-type stores. One of [Thalberg’s] business philosophies was to keep a wide variety of books. And I don’t expect [the Wyly family] to take out the Bill O’Reilly books, but I don’t think they’ll take out the Noam Chomsky books either.”Rick Carroll’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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