Local broker moves toward buying Explore Booksellers | AspenTimes.com

Local broker moves toward buying Explore Booksellers

John Colson

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Bill Stirling has given himself until Friday to raise the $5.2 million he needs to buy his late wifes Aspen bookstore, which went on the market in late August.Stirling, a local real estate broker, said Monday that he is a third of the way there toward raising the money to purchase Explore Booksellers & Bistro, and that he has pledges from three investors who have agreed to kick in money to a limited liability partnership Stirling is forming.Although he declined to say how much he is asking investors to put in, or how many shares he is selling in the business, he said he would like to get seven to 10 more investors on board before he makes an offer on the Main Street property. Local broker Karen Setterfield, of the Setterfield and Bright real estate firm, has listed the property.In the meantime, the community drama surrounding the sale of the store this week entered the realm of street theater, someone began papering the town with pages torn from the Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451, with the words SAVE THE BOOKSTORE scrawled on them.The 1966 science fiction novel describes a futuristic world in which books are feared and distrusted by the general populace, and burned by squads of fire men, whose job is to start fires not put them out.When told of the pages taped to local business windows, Stirling responded, Great! But he said he had nothing to do with the stunt, and an employee at the store said no one there knows who is behind the campaign.Aspen Police Sgt. Steve Smith said he had not seen any of the pages, but that it could be a violation of the citys codes against posting bills on public property. He said the penalty for such activities could be a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.The family of the late Katharine Thalberg, which includes Stirling and Thalbergs three daughters; Ashley, Brooke and Deva Anderson, made the decision to sell the store. Thalberg, who died in January, founded Explore in 1975, and built it up to its present status as an popular local gathering spot where patrons can meet, read and eat vegetarian cuisine. Since Thalbergs death, her daughter Brooke, who lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area, has run the business, working through local managers.Sadly, its not possible for my family to continue to run and own the store, but were hoping the right buyer will step forward, Brooke Anderson said Monday. Although she would not discuss specifics, she said there has been some positive interest from potential buyers.Stirling, who said he is hoping to line up 10 or more partners in the purchasing group, said he hopes to be able to make an offer on the property by Friday.He said part of his planning is to create a community fund into which locals who want to have a sense of ownership in the store can contribute. That fund, he said, then could be used for special improvement projects at the store, if it is not used in the purchase.Stirling said there has been talk of his investment group joining forces with an employee group led by Robert Rolf.What theyre going to do is buy into the community fund, Stirling predicted. Rolf was not available for comment.Stirling said that if he is successful in putting together a group of large investors to buy the business, he will put half of his commission as the buyers broker, or about $75,000, into the community fund. He said he already has had offers of up to $25,000 for the community fund from local fans of the store, although he would not name potential donors.Stirling said the store makes a profit, but its not a great profit. But still he expressed concern that time is of the essence to prevent the store from going to another buyer.He said he is telling potential investors that, while they will need to park the money for 20 years, and theres no guaranteed dividend, it is one of the best investments they could ever, ever make in their lives which will increase the value of [their] own properties by Explores continuing to exist.Stirling urged anyone interested in the matter to call him at 948-8287. Rolf can be reached at rolf@explorebooksellers.com.John Colsons e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com