Fleisher retiring from a life dedicated to Aspen buildings
Don Fleisher has watched Aspen change over the last several decades and has attempted to preserve his favorite parts of this historic mining and ski town.
But after years of trying to walk a fine line between inevitable change in town and historic preservation, Fleisher recently announced his retirement from the commercial real estate business. As owner of The Fleisher Co. for almost 30 years, he has helped people invest in properties, trying to help the town’s older buildings keep their “soulfulness.”
Some of the structures Fleisher helped restore in Aspen’s commercial core are almost synonymous with the town itself, like the Ute City Bank building and the Aspen Block building. Fleisher was also the chairman of the Aspen mall commission, which led the efforts to build the pedestrian mall.
He refers to Aspen in phases – the “maverick, ski bum” days that ended in the mid ’60s when he first arrived, then the development of condominiums that brought in more families between the mid ’60s and ’80s, and finally a third phase when “some of the second homes got too big, and unfortunately a lot of the old ski lodges that were really cool were torn down.”
Fleisher often longs for the old days of Aspen when he became a full-time resident.
He moved to Aspen straight out of basic training – three days after being released, to be exact. He had a Volkswagen, his skis and $25 in his pocket, and his first stop was Aspen’s bowling alley, where Boogie’s Diner now stands.
“There were nine bunks in the back, and I was allowed to wash dishes, peel potatoes and mop the bowling alley at night in exchange for staying there,” Fleisher said.
Fleisher later helped install Aspen’s main sewer (incidentally, the same line now being torn out to replace the steel with PVC pipe) and was a bellman at the Hotel Jerome. He also washed dishes at the Steak Pit.
But in 1961 Aspen met Fleisher the entrepreneur. A “defunct pizzeria” stood where Chepita now stands on Cooper Avenue, and Fleisher bought it, named it Pinocchio’s and turned it into a busy, family friendly restaurant. Late in his life Walt Disney ate at the pizzeria, as did members of the Kennedy family, including Jackie Kennedy and her children.
In the ’60s when one could serve 3.2 beer to people over 18, Pinocchio’s was attracting a large crowd of young people. The problem, he said, was that they were taking up the pizzeria’s booths when there was a line of families outside waiting for tables.
As a result, Fleisher opened Galena Street East, a bar specifically for the younger set. Shooters Bar now occupies the space.
“We had banjo and piano music, and Dixieland jazz, but when we noticed there weren’t any kids in the club, we quickly switched to rock ‘n’ roll,” he remembers with a laugh.
But the long days and late nights of owning a bar and restaurant eventually became too much, and he sold both businesses in the late ’60s. A friend had asked him to help back a “jeans and T-shirt shop” in Aspen, and Fleisher’s brother, David, wanted to move to Aspen from California.
The shop became Pitkin County Dry Goods, co-owned by the Fleisher brothers, although David will become the business’ sole owner in the coming weeks.
Fleisher found his way into real estate in 1970, when he and Aspen resident John Doremus began the Doremus Fleisher Co. In 1975, Fleisher was on his own when Doremus left the partnership.
As a result, the Fleisher Co. became known for investing in mixed-use spaces, a combination of retail, office and residential spaces. And Fleisher tried to help investors
“I think if you can redevelop a building and preserve its natural life, you’ve made a real contribution. I’ve tried to do a lot of that, so that any property we touch, we extended its life.”
Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com