Milligan enjoys the life of a walking advertisement
December 19, 2002
Pat Milligan is something of a local tourist attraction.
Her trips down the Hyman Avenue mall always attract attention from passers-by. Some people merely gawk, others approach with questions, and, once or twice, people have paused to snap pictures.
But Milligan isn’t one of Aspen’s sparkling celebrities. No, Milligan is just a longtime local more commonly known as the Sandwich-Board Lady.
Milligan, a native of Santa Barbara, Calif., got her start with sandwich boards in 1979 when, facing both financial woes and the illness of its owner, her favorite Aspen restaurant threatened to close its doors. The possible loss of the Little Kitchen, a eatery that catered to local health-food addicts, was enough to spring Milligan into action.
“I was a basket case when I first came here. I needed that good, healthy, macrobiotic food,” Milligan said.
So Milligan approached the Little Kitchen’s owners with a plan: in exchange for money and meals, she would tote a sandwich board around town to boost business. The idea, she said, came from a trip to Tokyo, where a similar idea helped her find a good lunch special
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Milligan sought the help of a “museum-quality artist” to create two signs for the restaurant. Then, on top of her three other jobs, Milligan squeezed in an extra hour or two of work each day as a walking billboard.
During that first winter, Milligan carried two signs for the struggling eatery. On top of providing a very noticeable ad, she would also approach passers-by to tell them about the Little Kitchen’s menu items.
“I was pushier in those days,” Milligan laughed.
She said the small restaurant used to dread whenever she’d stop by to pick up her signs and hit the pavement, since her walking ad would naturally lead to an overwhelming lunch or dinner rush. Thanks to her involvement, the Little Kitchen survived the long winter ? only to close its doors the following spring.
But Milligan liked the Sandwich-Board Lady idea so much that she stuck with it. She now heads the only business of its kind allowed to operate in a Colorado resort town ? sandwich boards have been decreed “tacky” and outlawed at other tourist destinations ? helping to promote over 187 local businesses in her years in Aspen.
No longer waiting tables to support her sandwich-board time, Milligan’s turned her stint as a walking billboard into a full-time job. Using a small room in the attic of Curious George Collectibles as a base of operations, the Sandwich-Board Lady is now a local fixture during the town’s peak seasons.
Milligan charges customers by the season, allowing her to put each business on a revolving schedule that allows equal promotional time for all.
Each customer ? local fixtures such as Boogie’s, The Cantina, New York Pizza and Short Sport, as well as a variety of new Aspen names ? is given half an hour each day in which their name and logo is fitted onto Milligan’s front or back and paraded slowly through the center of town.
Milligan said she’s always wary of her clients’ schedules, giving them the chance to catch a potential customer’s eye no matter what time they might be strolling through town.
“It gives people exposure at all different times of the day ? morning, noon and night,” Milligan said.
Though some clients provide their own signage ? all of which must be approved by Milligan before she’ll carry it ? most placards are prepared by Sharon Feder, a Denver artist who also paints sets for area stage companies.
Since signs are the most important aspect of her work, Milligan takes great pride in the creation of each. She’s not alone in admiring the craftsmanship ? Milligan’s signs were once featured in a local museum showcase, displaying both the handiwork and the ever-revolving roster of small local businesses over the years.
Mulligan has seen firsthand how her work can boost business for her clients. Just last year, Aspen’s Full Circle Massage asked Milligan to carry a small box of business cards in addition to her usual sandwich board.
The cards were gone not long after Milligan’s first shift of the day started, snapped up by sore skiers exiting the gondola.
“I’ve never gotten a bigger response for a client,” she said.
But the job often means more than advertising. Milligan is frequently used as an impromptu tour guide, helping to point visitors toward a particular local attraction. She also offers her services as a resort representative when polled by people looking for a good restaurant or hotel room.
Occasionally, she’ll even offer her services as amateur marriage counselor or spiritual adviser.
“People will walk with me for hours, just talking,” Milligan said.
Aside from the rare bit of gossip, Milligan’s job might seem tedious to outsiders ? walking the same route past the gondola plaza and through the Hyman Avenue mall for eight hours a day, six days a week.
However, Milligan has taught herself a trick or two to help pass the time ? a sort of walking meditation that keeps her mind occupied during her repetitive walks.
“That’s where the yoga discipline comes in,” she said.
Between the yoga and the long walk she enjoys during work each day, Milligan manages to stay trim during the peak season ? and that’s just one benefit to the job she says she’ll keep “until my legs give out.”
“It’s healthy, I get to work alone, and I can do the job right,” she said of her work. “I like to meet new people, [but] I’m very reclusive, and that gets me out.”
[Editor’s note: Faces of the Roaring Fork is a new feature of The Aspen Times that will appear each Thursday. The goal of these stories is to put the spotlight on people in the Roaring Fork Valley who don’t usually make the pages of our daily newspapers.
Stories will focus on “regular folks” who have interesting stories to tell. We hope they will run the gamut: people with unique hobbies, people who have overcome some obstacle in life to pursue a dream, people who quietly help others in need, etc.
And that is why we are turning to our readers. Though we have plenty of stories in mind, we are sure there are many, many people out there worth writing about who will never cross our radar screen. So we are asking our readers to tell us about folks they know who deserve a little recognition, who have interesting tales to tell
Anyone with ideas should call Editor Mike Hagan at 925-3414, or send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, in advance, for your help.]