Offseason is on-season for locals | AspenTimes.com
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Offseason is on-season for locals

Joel Stonington
Kai Peterson, left, and Pat Barill enjoy a low-priced offseason lunch at Gusto. The selection of Aspen restaurants drops in spring, but so do the prices. (Draper White/Aspen Times Weekly)
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The annual spring migration has emptied Aspen of fur-clad tourists and second-home owners, but town isn’t completely dead during offseason.

In homage to locals and other hardy mud-seasoners, specials abound: cheap hotel rooms, half-price flowers, spring clothing sales and restaurants that stay open through the slow months by offering half-price fajitas, cheap drinks or a power lunch.

For the restaurants and hotels that don’t close, specials help bring in enough customers to pay the bills. And it’s handy for non-millionaires, because it isn’t necessary to refinance the home or sell the car to visit Aspen.

For instance, Gusto’s entire menu and wine list is currently 33 percent off. Or you can just go for the $10 power lunch followed by $18 power dinner.

“Of course I think discounts on food and whatnot are cool,” said Dylan Hoffman of Woody Creek. “What did you expect me to say? ‘Actually I prefer paying full price?'”

It’s not just food, though. Sashae Floral Arts has half-price flowers on Saturday during offseason. Sandy’s Office Supply offers 50 percent off all their leather chairs. And several hotels give incentives to stay (or incentives to come throw a party, depending on your perspective). Sky Hotel has a valley resident rate of $115 through May 24, the St. Regis has offseason rates that start at $125 for a night and Hotel Jerome is down to $95, Sunday through Wednesday and $125, Thursday through Saturday. The Little Nell, on the other hand, closed its doors on April 16, not to open until May 25.

Yep, the streets are mostly silent, but inside a handful of die-hard eateries, offseason specials bring in the locals.

“We’ve been advertising in the Denver paper in the last few weeks. For it being offseason we have a pretty high occupancy,” said Jennifer Barnhart, spokesperson for the Jerome. “We’ve not closed once since we opened the doors in 1889.”

Going out to dinner in the offseason generally includes the bonus of seeing other locals. After a winter filled with unfamiliar faces, Aspen becomes a small town again in late April and May.

“This is probably the only time I get to see all the people I know around town,” said Thomas W. Colosi, co-owner of Blue Maize. “It’s a little slower so I get to walk around and talk to everyone. It’s a little more laid-back.”

Colosi said the half-price fajita special keeps the restaurant busy during offseason, but they pretty much break even.

“We stay open because it costs money to close,” said Colosi. “We’re paying rent no matter what and our employees really want to work ” they have families.”

The decision to stay open isn’t easy. On one hand, restaurants still need to pay the rent, taxes, and bills during offseason. On the other hand, staying open costs significantly more in food, cleaning and wages.

Closing a restaurant for four months per year can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Further, employees either have to go on unemployment or find other jobs during the offseason. But if there aren’t enough customers to pay the bills, then it doesn’t make sense to stay open. Hopefully profits from high season can cover an offseason closure.

Rob Mobilian, owner of Pinons, said he would lose money if he stayed open year-round. He cuts his losses by shutting his doors during the slow months.

“It eats away at your profit,” said Mobilian. “It’s a lot of money to be closed four months a year.”

Mobilian is not alone. Local eateries from Takah Sushi to Montagna at Little Nell to Cache Cache close their doors for months at a time.

“A lot of restaurants stay open and struggle,” said Mobilian. “A place like Jimmy’s is super-local. He stays open kind of like a favor to the locals.”

Jimmy’s, in fact, doesn’t offer offseason specials that are any different from the high-season menu.

“We cater to locals all year long,” said owner Jimmy Yeager. “The special we have in the offseason is to stay open every day and serve food until 11 p.m. every day. There really isn’t any need to run anything more special than that.”

Yeager said the offseason used to be much more pronounced with the population dropping to 2,000 or 3,000 people. Now, he said, Aspen never sinks below 6,000 or so people. So the restaurant stays open.

Another locals’ hangout, the Hickory House, strikes a balance. It closes on Mondays and Tuesdays but offers a ribs special on Wednesdays and Thursdays. A full rack is usually $18 but now costs only a dozen bones.

“I like staying open,” said Paul Dioguardi, owner of the Hickory House. “I like keeping our local following. I like giving the locals an alternative.”

Plenty of locals come in for the ribs blitz to smear themselves in barbecue sauce. Dioguardi attracts enough customers to pay the bills and make a small profit, but he wouldn’t make a living if it were offseason all the time.

“Some of the higher-end places that do one meal a day, I understand why they close,” he said. “And the people that do stay open get a little more business.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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