One contract falls through after another emerges for Explore bookstore in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A man who had a conditional contract to purchase Aspen’s Explore Booksellers for $4.6 million said he pulled his offer Monday after the seller received a higher bid.

“I’m now canceling the escrow,” said Andrew Lessman, the founder and owner of ProCaps Laboratories, a successful vitamin supplement manufacturer and distributor.

Lessman said he has grown fond of Explore during his 20 years as a summertime resident of Aspen, and he devised a plan to keep it operating as a bookstore.

“There was, I thought, huge potential,” he said. “It certainly didn’t have to make money. I had to stop the hemorrhaging.”

Lessman said his team was informed that a $5 million offer was made for Explore after his contract for $4.6 million was conditionally accepted. He refused to get into a bidding war and pulled out.

Explore is wrapped up in the Texas bankruptcy proceeding of Dallas businessman Samuel Wyly. His attorneys filed a motion in the case Dec. 18 seeking court approval for the sale of Explore to Lessman. The motion claimed Explore was not among assets that were frozen. The motion also made it clear that Wyly’s limited liability corporation reserved the right to continue negotiating with prospective buyers to try to get an offer exceeding Lessman’s $4.6 million.

Karen Setterfield, the listing broker, confirmed that the seller’s attorneys informed Lessman’s attorney there was another deal. She said she was prohibited from discussing the prospective buyer or the amount of the offer.

A hearing is scheduled Jan. 7 in Wyly’s bankruptcy case to discuss the sale of Explore. It’s unknown if the judge will issue a ruling that clears the way for a sale. Lessman’s contract said the sale was supposed to close no later than Jan. 21. It’s unknown if that remains the target date.

Lessman said he is “not a person that gets attached to material things” so he wasn’t upset that his effort to buy Explore fell through. However, he said his concern is the uncertainty over the fate of the bookstore.

“Who knows — maybe it’s someone that will keep the bookstore going like the Wylys did,” Lessman said.

Lessman said he studied the demise of independent bookstores and contemplated what he would have done at Explore to make it more successful. One thought was to make the original 1886 Victorian house at 221 E. Main St. detached from a residence that would have been constructed in the rear and rented out. Sub-grade commercial space would have been added beneath the original footprint. The business model also depended on the “right inventory” of books and related products to attract shoppers, he said.

“There are formulas that have worked. I’ve seen them,” Lessman said.

While Setterfield said she couldn’t discuss any specific offer, she noted the parties approaching her about Explore have been consistent in their interest.

“Every person that I’ve talked to wanted a bookstore,” she said.