Offseason in Aspen a losing proposition?
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Parking spots come easily, guys on longboards cruise down Galena Street and half of the restaurants in town are closed. It’s offseason in Aspen.
With tourists in short supply and most local residents disappearing for at least a week-long getaway, if not a considerably longer vacation, life in Aspen assumes a leisurely pace during the lull before the summer rush.
With a precipitous drop in the potential customer base, a number of local businesses close up shop for weeks at a stretch. Some shutter shortly after the ski lifts close and don’t reopen until June. Others make due with shorter hours and lure in locals with offseason specials.
Still, May was the slowest month of the year in 2010 in terms of retail sales, according to the city’s monthly sales tax reports. October, during the fall offseason, ran a close second. This year, the city is offering free downtown parking on Fridays in May (along with Saturdays and Sundays) in an effort to entice patrons to shop and dine.
The dearth of crowds may not bode well for the bottom line, but hangouts like Main Street Bakery and Cafe keep their doors open nonetheless.
“You never get used to losing money, but I lose less money staying open than I do being closed,” said the bakery’s owner, Bill Dinsmoor. And, the breakfast and lunch spot often manages to break even, relying on the local, working populace.
The cafe closes for a week in the spring and the fall, allowing for a thorough cleaning, but Dinsmoor said he feels a responsibility to his employees to remain open the rest of the time.
“Even if I can’t make money, they’ve got to feed their families. I’ve got employees who need the paycheck,” he said.
Boden’s Butter owner Kelly Hart trims offseason operating costs by running her coffee shop largely by herself and closing on Saturdays as well as the usual Sundays. She doesn’t question the wisdom of sticking it out for the offseason, though.
“I think it’s worth it. I still have to pay rent,” she reasoned.
Among restaurants that remain open, most cater to breakfast and lunch diners – people who are in town to work. Fewer establishments offer dinner, but those that do can pull in an appreciative crowd.
Rob Ittner, owner of Rustique Bistro, says he keeps his restaurant open through the offseason if his employees want him too (apparently, they do this spring) and closes for a month if they’d prefer the time off.
He markets offseason specials and may serve anywhere from 20 to 100 people a night.
“It’s about minimizing the money that you lose, not making money,” Ittner said. “It’s better to be open and lose money than it is to be closed and lose even more money. It’s a difficult business model to understand.”
At The Cantina, which serves lunch and dinner, offseason business has been “phenomenal,” said general manager Antonio Alvarado. A reputation for being open when many eateries are not has gained the restaurant a loyal offseason following, he said.
Last week, The Cantina resurrected FAC (Friday Afternoon Club) on its outdoor patio, offering live music on Fridays that will continue through the summer.
“We got a great response last Friday,” Alvarado said.
While restaurants can depend on local residents, hotels and lodges aren’t likely to lure someone who lives here for more than a special night out. All three of Aspen’s luxury hotels, The Little Nell, Hotel Jerome and St. Regis, were simultaneously closed for a period this spring, though only the St. Regis remains so, for an extensive renovation project.
Staying open helps keep a lodge’s staff intact, and there are guests in town seeking accommodations, according to Cristen Meyer, sales director for both the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge.
“It’s been soft, but it’s definitely been decent, especially on weekends,” she said. “I would say, knock on wood, we haven’t had an empty night.”
A lacrosse tournament last weekend helped fill the 45-room Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson was three-quarters full, as well, Meyer added. And, the two lodges will be close to full for Memorial Day weekend, a little more than a week away.
Retail shops aren’t exactly bursting with customers these days, and many are operating at reduced, offseason hours, but Hub of Aspen owner Charlie Tarver wouldn’t think of closing his bike shop as bicycling season moves into high gear.
“Hey, we’re busy,” he said Wednesday. “May is our fourth busiest month, so for us, it’s a no-brainer.
“From January through July, we’re busier every month.”
But town as a whole seems even slower than usual, Tarver added, suggesting the lingering winter is to blame.
“This is one of the quietest offseasons I can remember,” he said. “This has the feel of offseasons of old.”
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