Mountain Naturals health food store in Aspen Business Center to close after 21 years

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Mountain Naturals in the Aspen Airport Business Center will close in January after 21 years in business.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

After 21 years of providing the community with organic fare at Mountain Naturals, owner Anthony Smith will close the doors to his health-food store in mid-January.

Located across from Roxy’s Market and adjacent to the car wash in the Aspen Business Center, the space in which Mountain Naturals operates has been a hub for healthy foods since at least the early ’90s, Smith said.

In January 1996, he purchased an all-natural food business from a couple and renamed the new venture Mountain Naturals.

While preparing homemade meals and selling organic produce and other items has been the focus since, Smith said the business will likely be best remembered for something that has nothing to do with food — raunchy and arguably offensive newspaper advertisements.

Remember the slogan “Health food sucks,” courtesy of the popular local sandwich shop Johnny McGuire’s?

That was a nod to Mountain Naturals, said Smith, as part of a friendly, highly entertaining “advertising war” between the two businesses, which shared the same space in the business center at one point.

But many people weren’t as humored by the ad battle, whereby the object of the game was to dream up the most outrageous, inappropriate ad a newspaper would print.

“They were very offensive, … but it was really fun and we had a blast doing it,” Smith said last week, laughing as he dug up the archives.

“Americans are offended right away,” the South Africa native added. “People were writing letters to the editor and said they were never going to come back here, and I didn’t mind it.”

Before the recession that started in 2008, Smith said Mountain Naturals had a loyal following and a steady stream of customers every day.

“We used to have a huge lunch crowd (and) a hot table bar in the middle of the space,” he said. “There were tons of people here every day, lunch specials, soups and a salad bar.”

Sadly, Smith said, the business has struggled to recover since the economic downfall.

The natural-foods movement in recent years that’s led to increased competition, both locally and online, hasn’t helped Smith’s situation, either.

“The loyalty never really stuck with people supporting me enough to make the business worthwhile, as well as lots of choices became available to get organic food,” Smith said, both on the internet and among grocers in the valley.

Since 2012, a Whole Foods Market opened at Willits Town Center in Basalt, while both Clark’s Market and Roxy’s Market have added and continued to expand their organic foods selection.

This past spring in particular, both markets underwent significant renovations to do so.

While Mountain Naturals will not be a destination after January, Smith said he intends to continue taking clients’ special orders on grocery items, vitamins and supplements.

Outside of this, the husband and father of three daughters said he looks forward to figuring out what’s next.

After all, before Smith had a reputation for producing controversial ads, the longtime Aspenite was known around town as the man who rode a push-kart with bicycle tires selling sandwiches slung over his shoulder.

On Monday, Smith said he wished to thank “all the loyal customers that saw me through to the end.”

He added, “To all my turkey sloppy joe people, I’ll miss you.”