Movin’ on up: Aspen’s Thrift Shop settles into new digs |

Movin’ on up: Aspen’s Thrift Shop settles into new digs

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Thrift Shop of Aspen isn’t in the habit of splurging. The store’s 60-year history of directing its proceeds to local nonprofit organizations is so strong that none of its staff, from president Sue Kolbe down to one-day-a-week salespeople like Marie Kelly, draws a salary. The big annual extravagance is a Christmas luncheon for staff and volunteers; this past year, it was downgraded to a potluck.

So the smallest amenities can feel practically luxurious. The Thrift Shop’s new digs at 422 E. Hopkins Ave., which opens Saturday after a year and a half spent in a rented space, is relatively loaded with marvelous new features.

“Our greatest asset is our volunteer staff,” said Kolbe, sitting in the new location Friday afternoon, amidst a rush of activity, from stocking shelves to installing the shelves themselves. “And we’ve been able to give them a spongy floor in the sorting room, and a place to meet and have lunch that isn’t a bathroom.”

When asked how big an improvement the newly constructed space is, which is located next to the under-construction fire station, Nancy Gensch, chairman of the building committee, laughed and rolled her head.

“Oh, are you kidding me? The light in here, fresh air?” she said, counting off the Thrift Shop’s new features. “The old basement, where we had the shoes and linens? The worst!”

Walk into the new space and you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as a second-hand store. Along one wall are spiffy-looking bookshelves, donated by the defunct Town Center Booksellers in Basalt. Other shelves, mirrors and fixtures came from other recently shuttered shops, including Chepita and Tumi. The merchandise itself has never been more enticing – and not just because the walls are freshly painted and the goods have been meticulously arranged. For the past four months, while operating in the rented space, The Thrift Shop has been stashing away the finest items in anticipation of the re-opening. Awaiting shoppers are such steals as Prada shoes, a Ralph Lauren leather jacket, North Face camping gear, and even a mink coat.

“We squirreled it away for opening day,” Christina Patterson, the Thrift Shop’s vice president, said. “And we haven’t raised our prices.”

Since April of 2008, The Thrift Shop operated out of a Hyman Avenue space where they paid “competitive commercial rent.” “And when you’re selling T-shirts at 25 cents … ,” said Kolbe.

Despite the high rent and low prices, The Thrift Shop said it did remarkably well in its leased location. They covered the rent, put away between 10 and 15 thousand dollars for the rebuilding project – and were still able to accomplish their primary mission of giving grants to local organizations. They provided $12,000 to $15,000 a month to environmental, educational, recreational, senior citizen and other groups.

With their new space – designed by Studio B architects, built by Fenton Construction, and overseen by John Keleher, who donated his time to serve as the owner’s rep – The Thrift Shop figures it can increase the amount of donations it hands out. The new space has 2,400 square feet of merchandise space – nearly double the area of the original shop. (They note that the additional space requires more volunteers; a volunteer open house will be held in mid-autumn.) They have raised over $2 million toward the rebuilding project, which nearly covers their costs. They are looking for another $150,000; if they don’t get that in donations, they will have to dip into their register receipts to cover it.

While The Thrift Shop seems to be run almost exclusively on the labor of women, they seem to be most proud of their new basement, which they tout as a men’s haven.

“They have their own domain here,” said Gensch. “Men’s clothes, sporting equipment and electronics. You’ll never see a man on the top level.”

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