Opening of grocery store stirs Willits retail scene | AspenTimes.com

Opening of grocery store stirs Willits retail scene

BASALT – A popular bike and ski shop is relocating from downtown Basalt to Willits Town Center, in part, to capture some of the business expected to be drawn to Whole Foods Roaring Fork.

Basalt Bike and Ski owner Joel Mischke said there are “layers of reasons” for the move, including the increased exposure to customers headed to the supermarket.

“I think Whole Foods makes it a real attractive spot,” Mischke said. He anticipates thousands more vehicles per day will drive by his new space than drive by his store on Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street.

Basalt Bike and Ski will be located in the same building as Whole Foods, in a 2,000-square-foot corner space across the street from Asiana Fusion restaurant. Whole Foods opens Wednesday. Basalt Bike and Ski opens at its new space Sept. 1, and it will vacate its space in downtown Basalt.

“The move is definitely bittersweet,” Mischke said. “The Midland Avenue business community has been incredibly supportive since our beginning in January 2006, and we’ll definitely miss them.”

Another big reason for the move is additional space. Mischke doesn’t have the ability to increase his store size where he is currently located. He said the store is “bursting at the seams.” His staff in the past had to pack away most of the cycling equipment in late fall to make way for ski gear and clothing. In spring they feature the bikes and associated clothing and gear. The winter merchandise gets tucked away.

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The store will gain 800 square feet in the new space so the store will be able to keep more merchandise out year-round rather than take a seasonal approach.

He doesn’t plan to add to his staff initially, but more of the summer staff will stay on for winter.

Mischke said he’s gotten some ribbing about moving out of downtown from regular customers of the shop who live in Basalt, but even they understand his reasoning.

The relocation of Basalt Bike and Ski is evidence the opening of a strong anchor tenant will jump-start Willits Town Center, a development approved for roughly 500,000 square feet of commercial and residential space. Only a small portion of the project is developed and vacancy rates remain high in one of the two buildings completed. That could change after Wednesday, said Les Gray, a property appraiser in the midvalley.

“Everybody is going to want to be there,” Gray said. “It’s the center of the (midvalley) universe.

Gray expects the vacant spaces in the two buildings at Willits will eventually fill and greater demand will drive up rents. One of the recent leases signed in a space in the building across from the Whole Foods was for significantly more than prior leases, he said. Places where the traffic flow is greatest will see the largest increase in rents, he said.

At least one other major retailer in Basalt property is considering a relocation to Willits Town Center. In addition, a liquor store has relocated at Willits to be closer to Whole Foods; the Verizon store switched locations and a veterinary office opened. A dermatology clinic also purchased a space and plans to relocate. All those moves are internal shake-ups.

Less certain is the effect Whole Foods’ presence in Willits Town Center will have on Orchard Plaza, the commercial area surrounding City Market, and downtown Basalt’s commercial core.

City Market is less than 1 mile from Whole Foods. The opening of the new store “could change the center of gravity,” Gray said. “You’d think Whole Foods’ gain would be City Market’s loss.”

There is a caveat. Higher prices for natural and organic goods at Whole Foods might mean customers are willing to stick with City Market at this time when the economy is still trying to bounce back from the recession.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said it is premature to say downtown will suffer from the opening of Whole Foods and anticipated activity level at Willits town Center. “I think it’s going to be a wait-and-see thing,” she said.

The relocation of the Wyly Community Arts Center to a more visible spot downtown plus beautification projects and special events have helped the core. “I just think downtown is better than it was five years ago,” Whitsitt said.

scondon@aspentimes.com