Explore bookstore for sale | AspenTimes.com

Explore bookstore for sale

John Colson
Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Explore Booksellers & Bistro, which some view as a critical component of Aspen’s soul, has been put on the market for more than $5 million by the family of its founder and creative guide, the late Katharine Thalberg.A “core group” of employees in the bookstore and vegetarian bistro, in collaboration with Thalberg’s widower, Bill Stirling, say they hope to buy it.”That’s the only way Explore can continue with the ideals and vision that Katharine inspired us with,” declared two-year bookstore employee Robert Rolf, adding that he is heading a purchasing group of four people who work in the bookstore and two who work in the bistro.Although he declined to disclose names, Rolf said the group includes employees with between three and 10 years experience.Stirling, who has a real estate office in town, said he is “working solely on the buyers’ side … who have the interest and ability to do this” and that “I will be part of the group.” The creation of a limited liability corporation will help facilitate the purchase.”It is with great sadness that we do this,” Stirling said of his family’s decision to put the business on the market. “My goal is to keep it going as it is, to keep improving on the concept that Katharine so brilliantly created.”Local broker Karen Setterfield, of Setterfield and Bright, announced the sale of the business and the property Thursday, for an asking price of $5.2 million.The business has a prime location in a Victorian home at 221 E. Main St., where it has operated since 1977. It has always been a place for locals to gather, browse books or magazines, and eat vegetarian cuisine. It also has served as a venue for numerous literary events, book-signings and other activities over the years.The two-story building features books, magazines, a reading area and offices downstairs, and more books and the bistro with seating for about 50 people upstairs. The property is designated historic, is in the city’s historic downtown overlay district, and is zoned for mixed uses.Since Thalberg died in January, her daughter, Brooke Anderson, who lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area, has been running the store through local managers.”Over the past several months, my family has had time to think about the business, to reflect and to plan for the future,” Anderson said in a prepared statement issued by Setterfield. “And we have concluded that it is time to hand over the reins of this historic piece of Aspen to a new owner.”Asked whether the store was operating at a profit, Anderson declined to give specifics but said, “Business at the bookstore is strong, and the bistro has seen record business this year. We would welcome the opportunity to share financial information about the business with serious potential buyers.”She said that reaching the decision has been “really emotional” for the family and pledged that the business will remain open during the sale process, both for the community’s benefit and to give prospective buyers the chance to see it in operation.Rolf, speaking for the employees hoping to buy the business, said he has been talking with family members already but declined to say what price he hopes to reach through negotiations.He decided to go public with the group’s plan, he said, to “end speculation” that the building would be converted to a real estate office or some other use.As for the future status of the business, whether it might be turned into a nonprofit operation or some other arrangement, Rolf said, “We haven’t crossed any of those bridges yet.” He said the group is determined to do “whatever works to keep Explore what it has been, to keep it viable.”Anderson declined to discuss the possibility of an employee buyout. She credited employees with having “done an absolutely phenomenal job and showed an incredible commitment … they’ve showed the Aspen community that the business can continue to thrive.”She forwarded a note to The Aspen Times that she had sent to all store employees explaining the impending announcement. The note said, in part, “Explore Booksellers and Bistro was the realization of my mother, Katharine Thalberg’s, vision for a literary home that nourishes the mind, the heart, the body and the soul. But no one can achieve a vision unless others share it and work to make it real – you have and every day continue to do that.”Stirling asked that anyone interested in contacting him on the matter call him at 948-8287. Rolf can be reached at rolf@explorebooksellers.com.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com