Vacant spaces attract new shops |

Vacant spaces attract new shops

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Signs of new life are beginning to stir amid the proliferation of empty storefronts in downtown Aspen, but the struggling retail economy remains a concern for local resort executives.

News this week that a deal is in the works with a new operator for the vacant Isis Theatre is likely cause for joy among Aspen’s movie lovers, but the Isis is far from the only empty commercial space in town.

“For lease” signs dotting darkened windows have garnered the attention of the Economic Sustainability Group, a joint venture of the city and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

“We have spent quite a bit of time discussing the retail situation in Aspen,” said City Manager Steve Barwick, a member of the group, which includes government officials and business representatives.

“Economic sustainability” is a relatively new worry for a resort that enjoyed a vibrant, though ever-changing, retail landscape for many years, Barwick noted.

“The Aspen economy had been wildly successful with no general management,” he said. “Obviously, that’s no longer true.”

Still, longtime Aspenites are used to seeing businesses come and go too regularly to count. Failed ventures disappear with each off-season and new ones appear just in time to court the next influx of tourists. But recently, the closures seem to outnumber the grand openings and the vacancies seem to last longer.

On the other hand, a new tenant has already inked a lease for the Mill Street space where Eddie Bauer closed up shop last month after a decade-long run. The windows on the prominent corner of the Mill Street Plaza have been covered to conceal the remodeling for the rumored opening of a sales office for the planned Hyatt Grand Aspen time-share hotel.

Grand Aspen Lodging LLC, which owns the hotel property, has leased the space, confirmed Scott Writer, spokesman for Four Peaks Developments, which manages Grand Aspen Lodging. He declined to comment on the intended use of the space.

Along the retail strip that fronts the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, two of four empty spaces have attracted new tenants.

Testosterone, a shop dedicated to “gifts and accessories men actually want,” is set to open this weekend in the Aspen Square building.

Owner Brian Phillips will offer everything from pipes, cigars, hookahs and lighters to fine silver flasks, leather goods, playing cards and poker chips, English shaving products and French cologne.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys wander in,” Phillips said as he readied the shop this week. “There’s not a lot of stuff for guys, especially in this town. It’s all for women.”

A few doors down, it’s all for kids. Short Sport owner Laura Wilson is expanding into the vacant spot next to her children’s toy store with a Spyder Concept Store for youngsters.

The new store, scheduled to open in mid-July, will carry a selection of children’s shoes, up to size 5, along with Spyder skiwear and snowboarding attire for the younger set.

“We’ve always carried Spyder in a small way. This will be the full-on line,” Wilson said. “It has always been one of our bigger brands, so we’re just expanding.”

Though Short Sport has long carried boots for children, the new store will accommodate a full-fledged venture in children’s footwear, as well, she said.

In a vacant courtyard space below Hillis Furs, at the corner of Mill Street and Hyman Avenue, Malka Phillips is preparing for the June 1 opening of a new shop aimed at the fairer sex. While the guys browse at her husband’s shop, Testosterone, women can pop into Fetish, a nail salon and beauty boutique.

Malka is promising affordable manicures and pedicures in a friendly environment – no appointment necessary.

The shop will also offer “eyebrow consultations and redos” and a variety of skin-care, bath and beauty products.

Around the corner on the Hyman Avenue Mall, a vacant storefront is sheathed in wood and plastic while historic restoration work to recreate the original facade of the Kobey building commences.

The building has been vacant since the Sportstalker left in October 1999.

Owner Loma Alta Corp. of Dallas, Texas, is renovating the building. The retail space remains available for lease, according to Janet Lapin, who’s managing the property.

The building contains 5,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and a subgrade level. A free-market residence will occupy the second floor and a penthouse addition to the building, Lapin said.

The nearby Aspen Drug space on the mall also remains vacant and available for lease.

“I walked downtown the other day – I saw more empty spaces than I have ever seen,” said Nick Kuhn, who is now in search of a new commercial tenant for a portion of his remodeled Victorian at the corner of Main and Monarch streets.

California Bath and Stone, which shared the building with Matsuhisa, is gone after 18 months there. Kuhn said he evicted the business after it failed to keep up with the rent.

Kuhn said he had hoped to lure Starbucks to the space, but the Seattle-based purveyor of coffee will set up shop next to the base of Aspen Mountain instead.

Now he’s hoping to rent the 1,025-square-foot space to a retailer or business office. For the right tenant, Kuhn said he’d lease the space for $4,000 per month plus the common “triple-net” fees – property taxes, utilities and maintenance costs.

It’s a good price in Aspen, Kuhn said.

It’s also, apparently, what Harry’s Velvet Room, owes for the month of May. A notice on the door of the bar/lounge demands $5,529 in rent and late fees, including $4,000 due for May. Harry’s is closed for the off-season; its Chicago owner is reportedly debating the future of the nightspot.

The rents that retail and restaurant spaces in town are fetching is but one bit of data the Economic Sustainability Group would like to get a better handle on, according to the city’s Barwick.

“We hear stories, but we don’t have any good information,” he said.

The group has also discussed the need to quantify the amount of commercial space available in town, Barwick said. For example, how much square footage is devoted to high-end versus moderately priced restaurants? How many local retailers are locally owned businesses versus national chains?

“It’s things like that, so we can begin to do some analysis about what’s really going on,” he said.

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