Andy Stone: Aspen’s very first ‘big box’
I went to see the Home Depot store in Avon this week. I didn’t go shopping, I was just sightseeing ” cruising through, getting the feel of the place.
There’s been a lot of talk about “big box” retail stores around here lately, so I thought I ought to take a look at the newest big box.
And it is exactly as promised ” a great big box.
And that’s not all bad. As I walked through Home Depot, I saw lots of stuff that I couldn’t have found anywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley. And lots of stuff that I could have found here … for about twice the price.
I confess I had a bit of big-box envy. (And though my daily flood of spam e-mails promises cures for many kinds of size-related envy, big-box envy is not among them.)
But there was something else that I realized as I wandered through the endless aisles. I realized I could have been anywhere. Any big box in Anytown, USA.
Again, that’s not necessarily bad. I don’t want them to gussy up the Home Depot with “Western decor.” I don’t want stuffed moose heads, crossed rawhide snowshoes and Indian blankets on the walls.
Home Depot is exactly what it is. It’s a great big anonymous box, filled to the brim with stuff you want at pretty good prices. And Americans seem to be voting overwhelmingly, with their wallets, that that’s exactly what Home Depot (and all the other big boxes) ought to be.
That’s the way of the world. A sense of place is a luxury that we don’t seem to be able to afford. Or, at best, we can only afford it from time to time ” for special occasions.
What we’ve got instead is creeping anywhere-ism ” and it’s everywhere.
Certainly we have our share of big boxes here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Glenwood’s got one ” and it’s about to get two more. Carbondale voted one down, but it’s only a matter of time before a big one lands somewhere around that little burg. Basalt’s probably going to get at least a medium-big box, either at Willits or across the highway in El Jebel.
And Aspen, of course, got its first big box long ago.
It was called the Ritz.
Yes, the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Think about it. It was certainly big ” the biggest in Aspen, by far. Maybe it wasn’t all that boxy in absolute terms, but by Aspen standards it was.
But, more than that, the Ritz offered a major dose of Anytown anonymity.
The Ritz people didn’t come here to build an “Aspen” hotel. They built a Ritz Carlton and put it in Aspen.
Once you walked through the doors, Aspen disappeared. The weekend of the hotel’s grand opening, I toured the place with an Aspen official who was staying in a deluxe suite (compliments of the Ritz, of course). As we walked through the discreetly elegant halls, he whispered, “This isn’t Aspen. This isn’t anything like Aspen. This could be anywhere.”
That’s why, when the St. Regis took over that hotel, they spent millions tearing out a lot of the discreet luxury and trying to create something that felt like Aspen. I haven’t spent a lot of time there, so I don’t know how well they’ve succeeded.
But I do know that when travel magazines publish their lists of the Best Hotels in the World the Aspen hotel you’re most likely to see is The Little Nell.
When they built The Little Nell, they weren’t thinking “Ritz,” they were thinking “Aspen.”
And what they built is a hotel that feels like Aspen, a hotel that is definitely not a big box.
Big box works for Home Depot ” for Aspen’s deluxe hotel, thank goodness, it still doesn’t.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com]
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