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Longtime Aspen bike shop takes another stage

ASPEN – Longtime local business owner Craig Petersen wasn’t ready to give up on Aspen even though life has thrown a few wrenches in his spokes lately.

Petersen will reopen Ajax Bike and Sport later this month in a new location after he was forced to surrender his spot in the Wienerstube building last fall. The building is being demolished to make way for the new Aspen Art Museum.

Petersen said he gave serious thought to focusing exclusively on his Carbondale bike shop of the same name and not reopening in Aspen. Then calls started coming in to the Carbondale shop from upper valley customers wanting to know if he would reopen in Aspen. That convinced him to find another space.

“We’re doing this more for the community,” he said.

Ajax Bike and Sport will open at 314 E. Cooper Ave. after interior construction is finished at the site later this month. The space is at the end of the Cooper Avenue Mall toward Wagner Park, in the old Golden Horn building. It was vacated by Aspen Fur and Shearling in May and has been empty for several months.

“It’s a little bit of a mixed emotion,” Petersen said of his decision to open another shop in Aspen. He has been in the bicycle business in Aspen for 30 years and was located in the Wienerstube building for 22 years. While the site wasn’t in a high foot-traffic area, it was a destination business that pulled customers in. He nurtured a loyal following there.

Even with commercial vacancies in downtown Aspen forced by the recession and slow recovery, Petersen said the choice of sites was limited. He believes the new site has advantages and disadvantages compared to his old home. On the plus side, it is in the thick of Aspen’s summer scene, with Wagner Park, the adjacent playground and the public bathrooms a stone’s throw away and the ever-popular dancing water fountain just a half-block away.

“That part of the mall in the summertime is probably one of the busiest blocks in Aspen,” said Joe Raczak, who manages the Golden Horn building through Raczak Real Estate for David and Leticia Gordon of Des Moines, Iowa.

On the minus side, Petersen is limited on bike storage outside like he had at the Wienerstube building, which reduces his visibility. The old site was only 1,400 square feet, but he had space to display about 100 bicycles outside and it had a storage loft inside. The Cooper Avenue site is 2,200 square feet but city regulations severely limit the number of bikes he can display outside.

After weighing the pluses and minuses, Petersen ultimately signed a 10-year lease for Cooper Avenue, although he quipped, “I’m probably closer to retirement than I am to running a business for another 10 years.”

Kidding aside, he is fired up for getting open again in Aspen in time for spring cycling. “We’re here for the long haul,” he said.

Petersen will pay roughly 30 percent higher rent for the Cooper Avenue space because of its position in the downtown core. He plans to extend hours and pursue winter ski business harder to generate the necessary additional revenues. Ajax will carry a lot of backcountry ski gear along with ski clothing for four months of the year, he said. Bicycles and related equipment and clothing will dominate the shop for eight months. His bike lines include Specialized, Cannondale, Scott and Phat. Rentals are also a big part of the business, especially with the surging popularity of the Rio Grande Trail, which runs the length of the valley.

While many local businesses bit the dust because of the recession, Petersen said his sales were up in 2010 compared to 2009. “Aspen is still very positive for us,” he said.

Sales of road bikes have surged in recent years as the valley’s population ages. When mountain biking exploded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, road bike sales were down to 5 percent of Ajax’s total. Now road bike sales account for 60 percent of the total, Petersen said. Hybrid bikes – a more upright road bike style – account for a large share of the sales.

Petersen hopes to complete the interior finish on his site next week and open. He said he avoided remodeling at the Wienerstube building because he knew, in recent years, that his time there was limited. He spared no expense at the Cooper Avenue site.

“You’re going to see a Gucci shop,” Petersen said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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