Retailers to join forces? | AspenTimes.com

Retailers to join forces?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A local retailer is trying to band fellow merchants together in a united front to halt what he calls the “deterioration” of downtown Aspen.

Barry Gordon, owner of The Aspen Collection I and a retail representative on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors, wants to form the Aspen Retail Merchants Association.

He has fired off a letter to local merchants, urging them to attend an organizational meeting of the association next week.

“The time has come to make our voice heard. We cannot sit idly by and watch our retail core deteriorate,” he wrote. “We need to take action immediately.”

Gordon, a longtime local shop owner, said he had been contemplating forming a group to bring retail interests together. Rumors that the former Aspen Drug space is about to become the latest retail space taken over by a real estate office solidified his resolve, he said.

“When I just learned that Aspen Drug would be turned over to another real estate company, I could feel, internally, my blood beginning to boil over,” Gordon said.

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Hyman Avenue Investors LLC, which has taken over the lease for the former drug store, is talking with Intrawest, confirmed Stephen Marcus, a representative of the LLC. No lease has been signed, he said.

Intrawest is currently seeking approval to develop a new village, including residential and commercial space, at the base of Snowmass Ski Area.

“Here we have yet another real estate company that does not contribute sales tax to the city,” Gordon fumed. “It’s totally deteriorating the shopping experience for our tourist base and locals alike.”

Aspen had a retailers’ association at one time, but the group fizzled, according to Gordon. Banded together, he believes local merchants can create a force to be reckoned with – one that Gordon hopes will force change.

“I’ve gone to so many meetings in the last three months. I see a lot of committees, I see a lot of discussion, I see no results,” he said. “This is going to be an action committee.”

Concern about the conversion of retail space to real estate offices has been voiced by everyone from Aspen City Council members to the Economic Sustainability Group, which includes government officials, business representatives and executives of nonprofit organizations who are examining ways to boost Aspen’s economic climate.

The Economic Sustainability Group has pondered whether the city should amend its zoning regulations to prevent real estate sales from street-level storefronts, though it has made no recommendations on that or a host of other ideas, as yet.

Gordon, however, said he would like to see the merchants association press for just such action.

“If it means changing the rules, regulations of the city . change ’em,” he said. “Nothing is written in stone.”

The oft-stated prediction that empty storefronts would have continued to sit vacant had they not been leased as real estate offices doesn’t worry Gordon.

Empty commercial spaces would eventually lead to a market adjustment in rents that could open the door to new retail establishments, he theorizes.

“I’d rather see it empty than have the real estate,” he said.

A number of longtime local real estate agencies have operated in Aspen’s downtown core, but a recent influx of new offices have cropped up on the pedestrian malls and on Mill Street in spaces vacated by retailers.

Four Peaks Developments is now located on Mill Street, and Grand Aspen Lodging LLC has leased the former Eddie Bauer space. Remax, Chenoa and The Ritz-Carlton Club have opened offices on the Hyman Avenue mall.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]

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