Willoughby: A resilient Aspen store survived different times and markets
Legends & Legacies
Consternation over commercial core ownership goes unnoticed by those who have lived in Aspen for long. For us, commercial core battles continue a long trend, rather than kick off a new one. Limits could be placed on the kinds of retailers, but Aspen’s blocks of boutiques with international monikers render meaningless the addition of a few more.
Some of us remember when Aspen battled over its first brand-name entity, McDonald’s. We felt the city’s approval of the store as an insult and threat to the mom-and-pop restaurants and stores. The old search to find something special and unique in a store now turns toward seeking something, anything, that one can afford.
Going back to the early 1950s, store owners took pride in one-and-only retailing, yet they faced overwhelming challenges. One such businessperson, Terese David, became an Aspen institution.
David worked as a clothing designer, but by 1950s standards you might add avant-garde to that designation. She showed fashions in Chicago and New York, and audiences enjoyed her creations. An Aspen Times description from 1953 suggests her eclectic taste, “she is combining handwoven materials from Ireland and strange objects made by an Italian artist with Aspen crafts and workmanship.”
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David grew up in England, married film producer Charles David, and moved to Paris before World War II. After the war and a period in Hollywood, she divorced and moved to Aspen. Her daughter Kitty headed off to college in 1951, and David opened her Main Street operation. She gave French lessons, sold her wares and operated a two-day-a-week preschool. She advertised the preschool as The Pied Piper, “a place so mothers can have a carefree day on the slopes.”
David’s store was on the route that many children took to Aspen’s schools. She wrote a letter to the newspaper and suggested that the city pave the section of street between the school and Main Street. She noted, “They walk through puddles and sit with wet feet — hence all the sniffles.”
Aspen did not have a kindergarten during those 1950s years, so David opened one in her store. From the same space she sold unique children’s clothing and toys. Charles Eames designed some of the toys. You may recognize him as the designer of the molded plywood Eames chair. The first Aspen Design Conference in 1950 featured Eames and likely garnered David’s attention.
After Aspen opened a public kindergarten, David poured more energy into fashion design and her store. An advertisement from 1957 includes the best description of her offerings, “nowhere in the whole wide world will you find the things that are strewn here and there at Terese David’s. — Sounds like a muddle, doesn’t it? Wait until you see it.!!!”
Before Aspen’s expansion of skiing during the 1960s, retailers found niche markets that benefited visitors and locals. David sold Italian Olivetti typewriters, another design highlighted at Aspen’s first design conference. She sewed her own clothing designs, and leveraged that skill to sell sewing machines. When mothers sewed for her business, she would trade children’s clothing for labor.
As business improved, David would shutter her store and travel to scout new merchandise. She visited her mother in England, attended fashion shows and roamed Europe. Somehow, her business survived the short business seasons and small customer base of the 1950s. In the 1960s a new generation of customers sought unique items, and the store thrived.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at email@example.com.
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Aspen residents, workers up and down the valley and area businesses could benefit from the city of Aspen’s recently passed $5 million emergency relief and economic stimulus package.