Exploring a community treasure
Aspen, CO ColoradoAspen breathed a collective sigh of relief this week upon learning that Explore Booksellers will remain a bookstore. The announcement came Monday from the store’s current owners and the buyers, Sam and Cheryl Wyly. Longtime Explore patrons, the Wylys say they intend to maintain the current staff and continue to run the place as an independent bookstore.This is great news because the fate of Explore, which opened in 1977, has been in jeopardy since its founder and owner, Katharine Thalberg, died in January 2006. Her daughters and the store’s staff have run the store gamely for the last year but put the place up for sale in September, saying they hoped to find a buyer who would carry the torch.Explore is a community treasure, one of Aspen’s last great gathering places. And few, if any, Aspenites expected the bookstore to survive in this superheated real estate market. So we applaud the Wylys for essentially rescuing a true Aspen gem.Of course, the newspaper and the public aren’t privy to the terms of the deal. We don’t know the sale price (Explore was listed for $5.2 million), and the ink hasn’t dried on this deal. In fact it’s still under contract, and the parties have yet to perform their due diligence. We also don’t know if there’s anything in writing about the property remaining a bookstore. Will the Wylys will keep their “promise” if the store begins to founder financially?What we do know, right now, is what the Wylys told The Aspen Times in a faxed statement: “Explore is currently under contract for the sole purpose of enabling a quality independent bookstore to continue in existence and provide [the Wylys and] the Aspen community a haven for enlightened, balanced, respectful exploration of ideas – and awesome vegetarian food.”Surely it sounds good. But Aspen has heard these kinds of promises before and been burned. Can we trust it?The Wylys have a strong local track record. They are avid supporters of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, the Buddy Program and other nonprofits. They also deserve credit for a $600,000 contribution to the Aspen/Pitkin County Animal Shelter in 2005 that enabled the timely completion of the shelter’s new building. History also shows they’ve had a hands-off approach toward the organizations they support. We hope they will take that same approach toward Aspen’s favorite bookstore.
On Monday night, the City Council listened to ideas for each old building. However, nothing laid out what the community space would actually entail — only aspirations and gathered community comment.