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Longtime Aspen butcher retiring

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Aspenites and visitors who are familiar with the friendly service of manager Mike Barrena at the Butcher’s Block have one last chance to catch him in the workplace.

Friday is Barrena’s last day at the South Spring Street institution next to City Market. Soon he and his wife will be moving to the warmer climes of Peoria, Ariz., just northwest of Phoenix. A reception to bid him farewell will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday at the meat-seafood market and delicatessen.

“I appreciate everybody being so good to me, and I enjoyed waiting on the public of Aspen. It was a great experience,” said Barrena, 60. He said he has worked at the Butcher’s Block for a total of 31 years, but not consecutively, as a few hiatuses have occurred over the past four decades.

Barrena, a native of Whittier, Calif., said he arrived in Aspen in August 1972. He worked in construction for a few months and then took a winter job at Tom’s Market (which closed in 1986 and is now the home of Ute Mountaineer). It was there, at age 20, that he first learned the trade of meat-cutting.

In 1974, Jack Frey, owner of the Butcher’s Block, lured Barrena over to his fledgling establishment, and the rest is part of local history.

“It’s been a wonderful place to work,” Barrena said. “I liked seeing all the different people, the young people who have passed through all these years, and all the others who have come and helped to grow this business.”

He said he mainly works with the meat, but also has had a lot of interaction with customers in need of seafood and cheeses.

“It’s been a treat to meet people in the community and see their families grow up and see their kids get bigger,” he said.

At different points he lived on Durant Avenue and in Aspen Village. He later moved downvalley to start a business but the venture didn’t take.

“I came back up here in 1991 to get a paycheck again and (owner) Jack Frey took me back,” he said.

He recalled the transformation Aspen has undergone from being a laid-back party town in the 1970s to being an upscale ski resort for the wealthy. He said he used to ski but today he just snowshoes.

He said the least enjoyable aspects of working in Aspen are the spring and fall offseasons, when business traffic slows down considerably. “It’s harder to make the cases look good when you can’t bring as much product in,” Barrena said. “When it’s busy, your shift goes a lot better. I prefer to be busy. It’s nice to go home tired.”

But he said he won’t miss waking up at 4:30 a.m. four days a week and getting home at about 7 p.m. His typical work days run about 11 hours, he said.

Barrena and his wife will be trading their home in Glenwood Springs for a gated community with swimming pools and a recreation center.

“In December and January, Peoria usually averages 66 degrees, so it’ll be nice to be able to have shorts on year round, ride my bike around the community and have some fun.”

When the summers get too hot, he said he’ll always have his cabin in the Grand Mesa National Forest, just east of Grand Junction, at his disposal.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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