They’re feeling hot, hot, hot
Years ago, before Aspen’s retail scene became inundated with high-end handbags and fur coats, mom-and-pop shops with a funky, independent feel weren’t hard to find.And while there are still some original stores scattered throughout the commercial core, Aspen’s tough business climate is making them few and far between. In Basalt, though, finding the unexpected and unusual is as easy as walking down the street.Besides a number of independently owned businesses in Basalt’s Riverwalk Building, solid proof of the town’s shabby-chic shops can be found in Hot Mamas, just off Midland Avenue. The free-standing building, with one of the most visible signs in town, is a magnet for those looking for a unique kind of cool; the store has been known to suck people inside its walls for hours at a time.There are painted mugs that stand on legs, glass goblets with three-dimensional glass goldfish attached to their stems and an eclectic assortment of picture frames, journals and tiny boxes for life’s treasures. Paper lanterns in every shape glow from the shop’s lofty ceilings, and ornate jewelry twinkles on each tabletop.It’s a go-with-the-flow, have-fun-in-the-shop attitude that keeps co-owners Barbara Castellano and Dawn Cleveland moving forward. There’s no corporate office calling the shots with these ladies – just a creative spirit that seems to linger in the air.If there’s a method to this miscellany, it’s this: Sell colorful items that make you laugh, and you’ll never go wrong.”We love color, and we love things that make people feel good and look good,” Castellano said. “Our criteria is that nothing is heavy-cutesy or heavy-beautiful. It’s fun and feels good.””I think we give people a great atmosphere and feeling in here,” added Cleveland. “It’s very colorful and cluttered in a way people like – you can come in two, three times a week and not see the same thing twice.”Putting down funky rootsAlthough it’s been around for about eight years, Hot Mamas hasn’t always been the eclectic shop it is today. In fact, the business began with just beads and wholesale jewelry.Cleveland, a self-proclaimed “bead junkie,” worked for Castellano one day a week in exchange for jewelry. At that time, the wholesale office and part-time shop was across Midland Avenue from Cafe Bernard, five doors off the street.”It’s a creativity thing,” Cleveland says of her obsession with beads. “The colors and shapes are inspiring. And when you design jewelry and those things are there, you get what you want. I’m into color and funky, more interesting pieces.”Cleveland purchased the bead portion of the shop from Castellano about six years ago, selling beads to walk-in customers while marketing her own creations to other retailers. Eventually, the entire Hot Mamas operation moved to a slightly less tucked-away location, behind Susan’s Flowers and Gifts and the local bike shop.”That was really when our whole business began to change – customers started to support us, and the store started to evolve,” Castellano said. As Hot Mamas began stocking more gifts and knickknacks, the women found themselves pressed for space.About a year and a half ago, Hot Mamas moved to its current location, allowing its gift business to take off while providing a separate room for bead lovers like Cleveland.Plus the building is just as funky as the shop, said Castellano, so it works perfectly. Still, Cleveland and Castellano remain cost conscious.”Our criteria for purchasing and selling things is completely different [than Aspen stores.] We try to sell things so that little kids can walk in with $5 and walk out with one, maybe two things,” Castellano said. “You can’t do that in Aspen, because you’d need 10,000 people a day to come into your store to survive that way. It does dictate what we sell and how we look.”That’s probably why Hot Mamas can sell tiny beads imported from places like India, Asia and South America. Patrons are free to pick out the perfect pairings to string up without feeling much wallet pressure.While there isn’t enough space in the back room for customers to work on their jewelry in earnest, Cleveland’s always around to give advice; sometimes she teaches private classes.”Locals are our most important customers,” Cleveland said. “That’s not to say we don’t love the visitors to this area, but you can tell that people who live locally give us lots of continued service, and that’s wonderful. They’re really the backbone of our business, and I think that’s important nowadays or otherwise you might not make it.”And while locally owned businesses might be on the decline in Aspen, Castellano said things seem to be flourishing in Basalt.”Shopping in Basalt is really turning into a wonderful thing, and as many stores as we’ve gained in the last few years, it doesn’t feel like there’s any stepping on toes. There’s something for everyone,” she said. “The more stores the merrier, and the better the whole town feels.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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