Explore Booksellers aims to add speakers this summer in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Explore Booksellers aims to add speakers this summer in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Kaaren Jorgensen stocks books at Explore Bookstore Tuesday afternoon.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Explore Booksellers aims to dramatically increase the number of authors and other speakers it hosts this summer, the first under new ownership. Doug Phelps, the principal in the limited-liability corporation that bought the iconic Aspen bookstore in January, said the programming is the prime focus for the summer. The staff will organize events featuring participants in the Aspen Ideas Festival and authors with new work who are visiting Aspen. He said Explore also will try to entice authors of new books who are visiting Colorado but weren’t necessarily planning a stop in Aspen.

Phelps said he hopes there is an average of three events per week throughout the summer.

“That’ll be the main change that people see,” he said.

Explore was known for extensive programming while operated by its founder, Katherine Thalberg. That high level of programming continued after Samuel and Cheryl Wyly purchased the bookstore in 2007 but tapered off after they ran into financial difficulty.

Explore Booksellers and Bistro was sold Jan. 12 to 1543 LLC for $5 million. The sale had to be approved by a judge handling the Texas bankruptcy case of Sam Wyly.

1543 LLC is an investment vehicle for a number of nonprofit organizations under the umbrella of Public Interest Network. Phelps is chairman of Public Interest Network’s board of directors.

The nonprofit owner has done what Phelps outlined in January: It allowed manager John Edwards and his staff to run the operations without major changes. Sometime in the fall, they will assess what changes they want to make to boost revenue and cut expenses, according to Phelps. From the beginning, he said the goal of the purchase was to preserve the bookstore.

Phelps will make a presentation Friday in Aspen to the Save Explore Committee, which was initially formed to help purchase the bookstore, then started raising funds to potentially help a buyer with operations so the bookstore would be preserved. The committee was formed by former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling, who was married to Thalberg.

Phelp’s organization didn’t require the committee’s help. Stirling said the sale couldn’t have worked out better. His committee is throwing a party at Explore at 5 p.m. Friday to celebrate the preservation of the bookstore, he said.

“We said, ‘Let’s use this as the opportunity introduce Doug to the community,’” Stirling said.

Phelps said he will give a short presentation at the party.

Stirling said his independent assessment has spotted changes in Explore. The inventory of books and other products is being built up again, he said. The Wylys “did a good job” with the bookstore until they couldn’t put additional funds into it because of Samuel’s financial difficulties, Stirling said.

“They were hanging on by their toenails,” he said.

After the purchase for $4.4 million, they undertook an extensive remodel and propped up operations with their personal money.

“They had a shortfall every year,” Stirling said.

Phelps said his organization knew they had their work cut out for them running an independent bookstore. The organization will look at what is working with other independent bookstores.

“We have no regrets at all,” Phelps said.



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