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Will summer bring food carts, bigger Saturday market to Aspen?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Proposals to expand the Aspen Saturday Market and to allow food vending carts at spots around town may both prove controversial when the ideas go to the City Council for consideration Monday.

The city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission has proposed extending the summer market from its present two blocks onto a third block – Hyman Avenue – creating a U-shaped market that extends along Hopkins Avenue in the block next to City Hall, south on Hunter Street and then back toward Galena Street on Hyman.

“We want to have a fresh look and have people feed onto the mall,” said CCLC member Don Sheeley, who is also a member of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.

The expansion will allow the market to bring in more vendors who sell fruits and vegetables, plus more of the artisans and craftspeople who already make up part of the mix.

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The weekly market, which runs from roughly mid-June to the end of October each year, attracts as many as 3,000 to 5,000 people on Saturdays, making it one of the city’s biggest attractions, Sheeley told the ACRA board.

The market streets are, however, closed to vehicle traffic for the event, and Sheeley said the city may face opposition to the proposed new stretch.

The last time the CCLC took up the location of the market, in 2004, the commission was floating the idea of moving the event from its current spot to the stretch of Hyman that is now under consideration, plus parts of Galena Street and Cooper Avenue.

Affected retailers and restaurateurs panned the proposal and it was ultimately dropped.

“I don’t know how, when you have 3,000 people walking past your front door, you’re going to lose business,” Sheeley said.

Businesses that border the extended market would have an opportunity to have a vending booth of their own, he said.

Likewise, local eateries would have a chance to apply to operate one of the food vending carts the city is considering as a move to boost downtown vitality, but a number of restaurants that are members of the ACRA have registered opposition to idea, according to ACRA board member Bryan Nelson.

Nelson, executive chef at Pacifica, said he polled about 50 chamber members involved in the restaurant business. He received 24 responses, not all from restaurants, but all opposed to the idea.

Unfair competition, given the rent and other expenses restaurant operators must absorb, plus the potential for resulting trash and noise from vending carts were all concerns, he said.

Options for dining, and outdoor dining in the summertime, are not in short supply in downtown Aspen, Nelson noted.

“I think there’s so many options out there, there’s not a need for these food carts,” he said.

“Adding vitality is activities and events, not selling hot dogs on the street,” said Babs Menendez, owner of The Big Wrap and an opponent of the plan.

The food carts constitute unfair competition to rent-paying restaurants, she said.

“It’s pretty much giving the finger to every restaurant person in town,” Menendez said.

The CCLC recommended the City Council consider trying the carts at Rubey Park, the downtown bus station, and at Koch Lumber Park – spots without immediately adjacent businesses, said Drew Alexander, city planner.

A Roaring Fork Transportation Authority official, however, expressed reservations about doing anything at Rubey Park that exacerbates late-night trouble with rowdy and often intoxicated bus riders gathering at the station, according to Nelson. Residents near the park have also objected, he said.

City staffers have also identified locales on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, at the Rio Grande Park bus stop and, possibly, the skate park for vending carts, Alexander said.

“We’ve talked about areas in town that have critical mass – that can support a food-vending operation,” he said.

The city code already allows vending on private property, but the spots currently being considered are on public property, Alexander noted.

Local restaurants would be eligible to apply if the council decides to go forward with vending at any of the sites, he said.

The council work session Monday begins at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

janet@aspentimes.com


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