Marolt: Market forces at work in the village
September 27, 2013
Memo to new Snowmass Village grocery store: Resist making money the new-fashioned way. I think it will work better in the long run if you earn it. I wish I had some evidence to support this.
Everybody knows that there are two places to buy groceries if you are in Snowmass Village. The one for tourists is at the Snowmass Center. The one for locals is in El Jebel. The only people who didn't seem to know this were the folks at Village Market. Why else would they have such fresh and delicious produce? Why else would they go out of their way to put together a great bakery and deli? Why else do they stock excellent cuts of meat at lower prices for the offseason? What other reason could there be for hiring such a friendly staff?
Sure, stuff costs more at Village Market, but for the convenience, quality of service, and catching up on what's up in the village, it was worth it to head up there once in a while. They obviously valued local business. You didn't dread going there to shop for food like you do stopping at the Snowmass Village Conoco to buy gas.
I mean, buying gasoline in Snowmass Village is like hitting your thumb with a hammer. If you're not paying attention, you're going to hurt yourself! You fire up the car one morning, and the orange light is on. "Crap! Now I have to drive up there and pump in just enough to get me down to the Airport Business Center. All I have is a 20. I wonder if that's enough. "
For gasoline and groceries, Snowmass Village is a two-horse town, one for each. We're basically holding tourists ransom for food and fuel — more so for food. We don't provide the equivalent of bus service for hungry people. I don't even know what that would be — a community picnic every half hour?
The easiest thing for the one and only local grocery store to do would be to cater only to tourists and throw on the shelves the lowest quality of principally edible food from the dredges of the delivery truck rejected by every other grocer on the way here that meets minimum Health Department standards and charge prices that would make a diamond-mine owner blush. Go ahead and let your customers complain! If it were possible for them to do anything else, like take their business elsewhere, they would. But they won't! They're here to ski, and they're not going to ruin their vacation squabbling over the price of crappy groceries. They might grumble, but they'll pay the freight. You see the temptation for a grocery-store owner?
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The people at Village Market didn't do that. It costs a lot to do business in the village, with our brutally extended offseasons and all, so their prices were on the high side, but they always provided a good product. I think they worked very hard to be a valuable asset to the community, and I think they succeeded. They were in it for the long haul.
So, in return for doing a good job, making friends in town and being part of the community, Village Market got a swift kick in the pants from its landlord, and just like that the long haul ain't what it used to be. But at least people liked it. I wish that were enough.
Now we have the scourge of Aspen creeping in. No, I don't mean that Clark's Market, the grocery heir apparent here, is the scourge of Aspen, although its produce section has been known to cause serious contemplation for even the hungriest shopper. What I mean is that the glitzy town eight miles east of here is solely about the highest bidder. Rents stretch the limits, and prices follow. Leases are signed without regard to what the tenant brings to town besides a checkbook. Just pay the rent, baby!
The thing that stinks is that the formula works, but at a huge cost to residents. Landlords rake it in. New shops kill it until the first offseason, and then they clear out to make room for something else "new and exciting" to take their place. Everyone will get used to it and then one day wake up and realize that the center of the community is the Starbucks at Target in the Glenwood Springs Mall.
I don't know the specifics of why Village Market wasn't able to renew its lease with Related Cos. All I know is that I wish it had.
Roger Marolt wonders if Related would have made a deal with Loaf & Jug if it had outbid Clark's Market. He worries that someday we might find out. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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