Willoughby: Fishing, skiing, and sports stores | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Fishing, skiing, and sports stores

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Sandy Sabbatini (left) and Dick Murphy showing off their catch in 1959 in front of Sabbatini Sport.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

We go to sports stores to acquire skis and fishing poles and have many to choose from, but stores that specialize in sports evolved slowly in Aspen.

This description of fishing from the 1890 Aspen Times Daily suggests how popular the sport was in Aspen: “The favorite pastime in the mountains in the summertime is trout fishing. There is no other sport so innocent and amusing, so fascinating and at the same time so remunerative as catching fish. There is more genuine satisfaction in landing even a six-inch trout than in killing a bear or roping a buffalo.”

But, where could you buy your gear?

By 1885, you could find fishing gear at Mitchell and Crosby’s Corner Drug Store. In the 1890s, Carbary’s Book Store on Galena Street offered split bamboo rods for $2.50 and a complete line of fishing tackle. Carbary’s opened in 1881 but did not get into fishing gear until 1885. A.E. Jones Hardware Store also offered fishing equipment.

In 1909, the Aspen Times Daily, which liked to insert phrases between articles just for fun, said, ”Take a prospector’s pick along with your fishing rod.” You could buy your rod at Cooper’s Book Store for as low as $1.25. ($34 in today’s dollars). It also advertised “fishing tackle that’s fit for fishing.”

Twenty years later, Al Lamb’s drugstore got into the fishing-gear business advertising, ”Trout fishermen, we are ready for you!”

You might think that it wasn’t until ski facilities were built that stores sold both fishing gear and skis, but, in 1934, Tomkin’s Hardware on Galena Street sold both; so did Cooper’s Book Store.

Since the Aspen Ski Club began its ski operation in 1937, Aspen got its first “sports store,” Mike’s Shop created by Mike Magnifico. It specialized in ski clothing and skis, and he crafted ski boots, too. In the summer, he sold fishing items. 

Magnifico’s shop was the first to have an annual fishing contest, catching the biggest trout, and rewarding the winner, in 1940, with the prize of a Granger Champion fishing rod valued at $11 ($192 in today’s dollars). My uncle, Frank Willoughby, was the winner in 1941, landing a 20-inch rainbow from Snowmass Lake. Mike’s name was changed to Magnifico Sports and later he sold to Sandy Sabbatini and it became Sabbatini’s.

After the Aspen Skiing Co. opened operations on Aspen Mountain, the number of stores that we would think of as sports stores that sold both fishing and skiing equipment began increasing. Bert Bidwell and Sandy Sabbatini opened the Mountain Shop in 1954.  Like Mike’s, they expanded their inventory. Over the years, bicycles were added and a broader line of clothing.

Aspen Sports opened in 1953 and is still in business today. Aspen Sports was started by Steve Knowlton, who owned the nightclub the Golden Horn. He recruited Gale Spence, longtime coach for the Aspen Ski Club, and John Oakes to run the business. Knowlton located the store in a portion of his Golden Horn building. Spence and Oakes later bought out Knowlton and moved to the present location on East Cooper. 

Spence and Oakes added a fishing contest for their store in 1954. Their version was landing the biggest fish on opening day with a $25 ($220 in today’s dollars) gift certificate to their store. The winner the first year was Tulia Lalli with a Brown trout caught on the Roaring Fork, weighing one pound, fourteen ounces.

Also in the 1950s, Elli of Aspen opened, mostly as a fashion boutique with ski clothes, but it also had a ski-rental shop that sold Head skis. Stein Eriksen Sport opened at the Aspen Highlands in 1958 and moved to Hyman Avenue in 1964. Ski racer Anderl Molterer opened his sports shop in 1963. Later (’60s-’70s), not counting Snowmass, the town added the Winter Shop, Guido’s Swiss Sport Shop, The Sport Shop at the Centre, Sporthaus Linder, and Bell Mountain Sports.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.