Paparazzi perplexing the public
December 29, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN – Aspen was once a town where the likes of Jack Nicholson, Jennifer Lopez or Mariah Carey could walk around town unrecognized, and local retailers say paparazzi are ruining it.A recent visit from Seal turned into a punch-up, and a number of recent incidents have some locals riled as well.”I’m embarrassed of our community,” said Ricki McHugh, owner of McHugh Antiques on Aspen Square. Her store was overrun last week by paparazzi chasing Seal’s wife, Heidi Klum. A visit from Jennifer Lopez earlier this week forced her to batten down the hatches against an aggressive mob of photographers.J-Lo first visited McHugh Antiques on Thursday morning without incident, but when the star and entourage came back in the afternoon, the paparazzi pounced.”The second time she came back, she was literally being chased down the street,” McHugh said. The star eventually slipped behind closed doors and hid behind a painting in McHugh’s shop. Photographers took pictures of the flustered star through the store window before she could escape to an awaiting car.”This town has never been abused by the paparazzi like it is now,” McHugh said. “It is embarrassing as a community to have people come to enjoy this beautiful place be harassed.”McHugh is frustrated that she had to close her shop when the photographers descended, and is frustrated police spend more time protecting the unwanted visitors than protecting celebrities.”It puts us out of business, essentially, when you have to protect the people in your store from these idiot paparazzi,” McHugh said. And the longtime Aspenite was sad to hear J-Lo say to one of her posse that they don’t plan to come back to Aspen.”A lot of celebrities live in Aspen full-time,” said Jag Pagnucco, a sales associate at luxury retailer Bulgari. Anonymity on the streets was the attraction of early visitors to Aspen in the 1960s and ’70s, he said. And he is shocked at the paparazzi in town: “That’s not the way this town has ever been.”Like most in Aspen, the Hotel Jerome has a strict anonymity policy for its guests, said Jennifer Barnhart, director of public relations.”We do not talk about the people in the hotel,” Barnhart said. Non-guests are asked to leave, she said, but the entryway out front is public space and open to photographers. Hotel staff often make special arrangement so high-profile clients can avoid the press.Brian Lemke, a deputy with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s department, said police commonly chase paparazzi off private property, but said there is nothing criminal about being in a public place with a camera, or taking pictures.Officer John Rushing of the Aspen Police said paparazzi in Aspen are subject to the same rules as everyone else. “If you’re bothering someone who asks you to stop – that’s harassment,” Rushing said. And paparazzi can be arrested for harassment if they are causing a disturbance.Felony menacing carries a possible sentence of one to three years in prison and a $1,000 to $100,000 fine.On the hills of Aspen, Lemke said, it is up to the discretion of the Aspen Skiing Co., and police can escort anyone off the hill if they are causing a disturbance.Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Ski Co., said there have been a number of incidents this year and mountain staff follow a protocol.”If they are interfering with the experience of our guest, we will ask them to leave the property,” he said. Employees are instructed to ask visitors to leave once, then if the photographer doesn’t comply to ask again and take a photo of the person with a cell phone. And if they still don’t leave, they will contact authorities.McHugh is used to dealing with high-end clientele in her antique store. She said Jack Nicholson earns a friendly nod from her, and Ed Bradley, the late “60 Minutes” anchor, was a fine customer.”In the past, people were treated like people, and now, they’re being chased down the street,” she said.”Now they might do this in L.A. where it’s not so condensed, but it really makes a big impression when 15 people in a five-block area converge on one person trying to enjoy themselves,” McHugh said. “This isn’t the way you treat people who come to our beautiful city.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.