Heavy hearts, supportive words at Explore | AspenTimes.com

Heavy hearts, supportive words at Explore

Chad Abraham
Longtime Aspen resident Leah Stein reflects Sunday on some of her memories of Katherine Thalberg at Explore Booksellers, which Thalberg founded and owned. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

It was mostly business as usual inside Explore Booksellers on Sunday.A girl came in out of the steady snow to inquire about employment. Symphony music played softly in the background. Several customers milled about amid hundreds of books, including works by Gabriel García Márquez, Joyce Carol Oates, Balzac, Betrand Russell and Kurt Vonnegut, among so many others.But signs existed that the heart and soul of Aspen’s literary institution is gone. A book by the register allowed customers and friends, local and out of town alike, to share their thoughts on Katherine Thalberg, the longtime owner of Explore who died Friday.Employee Betsy Groves said there had been a steady of stream of people using the book to send heartfelt messages to Thalberg’s family.

“There’s definitely something missing in our heart,” she said.Just above the book was a notice that the store was to close from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday for a staff memorial. A memorial celebration is also planned for 3 p.m. Jan. 21 at Paepcke Auditorium.One of those signing the book was longtime Aspenite Leah Stein. She said she and Thalberg shared a passion for animal rights.Thalberg and her husband, former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling, drew international attention by starting a movement in 1989 to ban fur sales in town; voters declined to approve the ban after a heated campaign. And the upstairs of Explore is, of course, a renowned vegetarian bistro.

“I admire her because she stuck to her beliefs with integrity no matter what other people thought,” Stein said. “We had a lot of soulful talks about animals.”Thalberg was many things to many people: animal lover, innovative restaurateur and expert skier. In Saturday’s Aspen Times, Stirling said his wife “was one of the most beautiful giant slalom skiers I’ve ever seen.”Her bookstore and bistro was an outpost of warmth, particularly on snowy days such as Sunday, Stein said.”It is such a lovely, warm place,” she said. “It’s like a shelter in the storm.”

She questioned what will become of the store without Thalberg – “Everyone needs this place. It’s one of the real soulful spots.” Employees were reluctant to speak about that, with one saying it’s just too soon to think about the business side of things.The focus is on Thalberg, and the amazing life she lived. In the book by the register, a passage ended this way: “But we will continue to be enriched by the great legacies she has left us.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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