Snowmass retailers feel the squeeze
Aspen, CO Colorado
SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Some Snowmass Village retailers claim they are being squeezed out of the Base Village development, but Related WestPac CEO Pat Smith says there just isn’t room for everyone.
Related WestPac, which is developing the Base Village, recently informed Short Sport, a toy store in the Snowmass Village mall since 1978, that it won’t have a space when the project is completed.
“Our plan was always to be in Base Village,” said Laura Wilson, owner of Short Sport since 1989. Wilson manages an outlet in Aspen and plans to continue there, but closed the long-standing Snowmass Village mall shop at the end of the 2005-2006 ski season with plans to move to Base Village after it is built.
“We need to be where the kids are,” Wilson said, adding she is frustrated that Related WestPac has given her the thumbs down.
Company officials told her they were seeking another toy merchant, Wilson said.
“When Related WestPac came in, they contacted me and they were really, really great,” Wilson said, nothing she was at the stage of picking her new location. “It was a total shock to me when they changed their mind.”
The store owner had nothing in writing, but she is frustrated that her store wasn’t chosen.
“I feel like I’ve put a lot of years into Snowmass,” Wilson said. “I understand it’s business, but it’s personal for me, too.”
Related WestPac owns the majority of the Base Village project as well as the Snowmass Village mall, which is slated for a rebuild in coming years. Some 20 Snowmass Village retailers signed a petition in December asking the Snowmass Village Town Council to protect them.
“Physically it doesn’t work,” Smith said. “There’s no way all of these retailers on the west village mall can move to Base Village.”
Smith said the 50,000 square feet of retail space in Base Village cannot accommodate the nearly 100,000 square feet of retail in the mall area. And of the 14 retail slots in the new development, six have already been set aside for Aspen Skiing Co. retail and ski rental, Smith said.
Smith said he won’t negotiate Base Village rents in the newspaper, but he will “bend over backward” for local shop owners.
“At the end of the day, it will all shake out and everyone will be happy,” Smith said. “I’m willing to sit down with each and every one of them. Our goal is to make this thing local.”
Mall merchants, however, have not always been supportive of the project, Smith said, and in 2006 just two retailers had signed on with him.
“I was scared. I had nobody who wanted to come,” Smith said of those early days. “Now that it’s becoming reality, people are scrambling for their own space.”
Brent Wenner, co-owner of Wienerdog Kids Toys, which has outlets in Snowmass Village and Basalt, said he hopes to move his business to the Base Village and is in negotiations with Smith.
“We don’t know yet. We’re still talking back and forth,” Wenner said. “We’re definitely looking forward to being down there.”
Wenner’s mall store lease ends in April 2009.
Marty Swanson, who along with his girlfriend Jenny Smith owns Fuel, a mall coffee shop, said he is in ongoing negotiations with Smith.
“They would never budge on the numbers,” Swanson said Wednesday morning, before meeting with Smith.
“It seems like he certainly is committed to making things happen,” Swanson said after the meeting, adding that Smith seems to understand the importance of community.
But it’s not the first time Swanson has had a good feeling about Smith.
“I think there is so much potential for it to get out of hand and the Town Council are our elected officials and they need to look out for our interests,” Swanson said.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.