Employing feisty personalities
September 10, 2007
It was reported in The Aspen Times last week that J Crew and Burberry would be opening stores downtown next year. While the announcement prompted some grumblings around town about the ever-growing presence of high-profile chains, I say bring ’em on. The contemptuous attitudes of a few shops in the area have all but spoiled my desire to buy locally.
The importance of supporting independently owned businesses has been apparent to me for as long as I’ve lived here. Like a lot of people, I figure, in order to maintain the charm and character of this small community, it is my responsibility whenever possible to pitch in financially and patronize the hometown retailers. Which is why last December when I wanted to buy my husband a pair of Dansko clogs, I happily called Midland Shoe in Basalt. I specified over the phone the style, color and size I was looking for and then asked the woman with whom I spoke to please put aside the shoes until the next day, at which time I’d drive down from Aspen to make the purchase.
When I arrived the following morning, the woman stared at me apathetically while saying unapologetically that, in fact, she didn’t have the shoes in stock.
“But I spoke to you yesterday afternoon and you said you had them and would hold them for me. Remember, I told you I’d be coming down today from Aspen to buy them?” I asked, searching her face for any hint of recognition of my story.
“Yes, I remember. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have them,” she replied coolly.
“Do you think you’ll be getting them in before the holidays?”
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“Probably,” she said, turning around to straighten up the counter behind her.
I was starting to feel like Dr. Richard Kimble, who always seemed to take a giant leap backward every time he advanced an inch in his quest to catch the one-armed man in “The Fugitive.”
“Well, do you think you could take my number and let me know when they arrive?”
She sighed. “I suppose so.”
I went home and logged onto the Web at Zappos.com, where for a dollar cheaper than Midland Shoe (plus free shipping both ways), I bought the clogs and they arrived the following day. I figured if the store called before the end of the month to say the shoes had come in, I could easily make the return to Zappos.
The phone call never came. But that was actually fine, because I made an early New Year’s resolution that if I ever got the idea again to drive somewhere to pay full price and be treated poorly, I would be better off instead using my time and money to make origami shoes out of $50 bills.
I’m all for mom-and-pop joints that make paying full retail ” or even a bit more ” worth it in some way. Despite the fact that the price of a bottle of shampoo at Carl’s Pharmacy is only slightly cheaper than an ounce of gold, the staff there has seemingly unlimited patience, displaying unusual kindness even in the high seasons when the tourists are 12-deep waiting for their Percocet prescriptions while simultaneously blocking every aisle chatting on their cells, scrutinizing altitude-sickness medication and flipping through the ads in Aspen Peak.
The creative selection and warm vibes at a place like Explore Booksellers or Town Center Booksellers make it much less excruciating to purchase books there, especially knowing full well that the same titles can be had for almost half the price at places like Amazon.com and Costco.
It’s not as though I expect special thanks in exchange for my credit card. I’ve just always believed businesses that mix a little cordiality with respect and appreciation are the ones worth frequenting.
All three attributes have been conspicuously absent every time I’ve shopped at Amen Wardy. Between registering for a few gifts there after getting engaged, to using it as a local go-to store for various special occasions, I inevitably feel more abused than Ted Kennedy’s liver after I leave. It seems as if I repeatedly make the mistake in the presence of the salespeople of wearing a wedding ring in which the diamond is smaller than my fist, and not wearing jeans worth more than what it would cost to feed a village of Sally Struthers’ kids for a month.
When the cashier at Amen Wardy realized I was inquiring about store credit and not making a new purchase last weekend, she instantly lost the already minuscule interest she had in offering assistance and turned her nose down at me so far I feared she might actually pull a muscle in her neck. When I asked for a manager, I quickly discovered from whom she learned her social skills.
To be sure, there are plenty of places where a little abuse is to be expected. Like the Woody Creek Tavern. Truth be told, if at least one server isn’t inattentive and testy, I start thinking I’m not getting my money’s worth.
There are also places where it’s simply tradition to be charged too much for lesser quality merchandise. Like City Market in Aspen. While part of the King Soopers family, it’s so run-down and down-home it seems independently owned. But nothing makes up for buying a loaf of mildly stale, full-priced French bread more than the store manager smiling and gratuitously assisting in unloading groceries onto the checkout counter.
Overcharging or employing feisty personalities can be fine, but in a community this size where the goal has been to band together, both at once can be one too many.
I’ve been thinking lately that a Williams-Sonoma just might be the perfect fit right on the corner of Galena and Hyman.
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