Stop the cycle
Many factors contribute to the attractiveness, character, convenience, broad appeal, excitement and soul of a town, no more so than the downtown core with its assortment of restaurants and shops, and of course the local people who own and operate them. Aspen is no exception.
Following WWII, minds gradually replaced mines and Aspen attracted a new breed of prospector who moved to town, staked their claims and put up signs advertising their restaurants and shops: The Parlor Car, Andre’s, The Golden Horn, The Copper Kettle, The White Kitchen and The Shaft, among others, offered fine fare and pleasant dining for locals and the growing number of tourists who had discovered all of what Aspen offered, winter and summer.
Shopping was an enjoyable experience as well, for parking was free and always readily available. Ozzie’s sold shoes for real people, Pat Moore had a great kitchen and table-top shop, Best of All Worlds sold wonderful gifts, Heather’s offered terrific craft items, Stuart Mace’s Toklat was a cornucopia of fine things, Therapy was in a class by itself, Scott Keating sold beautiful belts, and Aspen Drug offered an alternative that could be counted on for having just what you needed.
Those fortunate enough to have known Aspen during what many consider to have been its heyday not only miss these establishments, but more so the individuals who owned and ran them. Characters all, they were your neighbors and you could be assured that they would always give you good weight. For a decade or so, a comfortable and diverse balance of shops and restaurants was maintained.
Things change, as they always do, and one-by-one most of the local shop owners/keepers folded their tents or moved away due to rents that escalated to the point that only the ubiquitous soul-less chain stores could afford to pay and, of course, the vicissitudes of life. Sadly, their leaving has proven to be a great loss for the town; however, there is a way for Aspen to reclaim what has been lost.
Additional vitality could be brought to the downtown if the City Council, in partnership with the owners of all downtown real estate and a few wealthy community-minded individuals, got together to work out the details of forming an enterprise zone in the heart of town dedicated to diversity. In order for diversity to reoccur, the vicious cycle of ever-escalating taxes followed by escalating rents must be broken, and as many communities have seen the benefits of including attainable housing in their town plans, the concept of attainable rents for locally owned shops and restaurants is equally viable.
Consider the many benefits to the town and to property owners, if, on a voluntary basis, in this enterprise zone a percentage of the rental properties could be earmarked for local restaurant and shop owners at affordable rents. This could easily be accomplished by legislation that would reduce (or rebate) taxes on these properties in direct proportion to the reduction in rents. A win-win-win situation for everyone.
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Aspen’s dirty downtown alleys are enough of a blight that the city government is taking the initiative to clean them up this week.