Merchants all grins as town fills up for holidays |

Merchants all grins as town fills up for holidays

Patty Patterson, owner of Bloomingbirds: “It’s been phenomenal. We’ve been slammed. I love it.”

Shelley Freeman, saleswoman at Pitkin County Dry Goods: “It’s really picked up since Sunday.”

Kerstin Lundholm, assistant manager, Mezzaluna: “Business is absolutely mad. It’s been years since it’s been this crazy before Christmas.”

Ann Condon, manager at Short Sport: “I can’t say we’re disappointed.”

Nor, in fact, were any of the merchants interviewed for this story.

For many retailers, the two weeks around Christmas is a make or break season. Some casualties of the recession and four consecutive seasons of poor skiing conditions are apparent throughout town, but for the most part, the air in Aspen’s retail core was one of optimism.

As the storm on Christmas Eve whitened the skies and covered the slopes with fresh snow, the streets were teaming with shoppers of all sorts.

Cars inched up and down the 10 or so blocks that make up Aspen’s retail core looking for a place to park. Even the alleys were lined with SUVs and cars looking for a way around the backups on the main streets.

Whole families were shopping together. A daughter or son or wife or husband would spot this item or that in a window at the North of Nell, Mill Street Station or in the mall and call everyone over.

“Check it out,” one teenage girl, shopping with her father and brother, said after seeing a four-shot picture frame shaped like a ski sitting in the window at the North of Nell. “Isn’t that cool?”

Cool enough for Dad to backtrack into the store and make the purchase.

Meanwhile, window shoppers were marveling at temptation’s variety and the prices that kept them from reaching out.

“Aspen’s very upscale,” said Gerald Richardson from Baton Rouge, La. He was one of 10 Richardsons in town for the holidays. “It’s a neat place to look at things.”

And, of course, late shoppers were out braving lines at just about every store in town with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in the same lot.

“This is insane,” said Karen Sahr as she stood behind four people waiting at one of two cash registers at Short Sport in Aspen Square. She was holding a toy called “Build and Erupt Your Own Volcano” that she planned to give to a young friend.

“I went into the Gap and walked right out,” she added. “It was so packed.”

The only types of stores that weren’t packed were jewelry stores and galleries, both of which generally attract more shoppers after Christmas.

“We’re very optimistic. Our clients seem optimistic, too,” said Michelle Bryan, an art consultant at Galerie Maximillian, which specializes in fine European graphics by artists such as Matisse and Picasso. “We’ve had some nice sales so far.”

Galerie Maximillian will have a showing Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. specifically for after-Christmas shoppers.

“When it comes to buying a painting or bronze that’s going to be shown to people,” said Bill Leach, owner of Wind River Gallery on Hyman Avenue, “it’s generally a family or at least a couple’s decision. After Christmas they’re in great spirits and have more time to make up their minds.”

For that matter, even retailers of the smaller, less expensive items are expecting big things of the next nine days. Patterson, who said Bloomingbirds is having its best year ever, said the week before New Year’s Eve is the biggest of the year.

“The next week is the busiest because everyone is looking for New Year’s Eve party shoes,” she said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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