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Ethics are so inconvenient

Andy StoneAspen, CO Colorado

I’ve got a problem. Yeah, yeah – nothing new.It’s a personal problem. (Again, nothing new.) But as I wrestled with it, I realized it’s also a bit of a national problem. And in some ways very much an Aspen problem.The problem, in the most general terms, is that there’s a restaurant in town that I want to try, but for ethical reasons – can you believe it? – I have refused to set foot in the joint.Boy, do I hate it when ethics get in the way of satisfying any of my desires.To some extent, the problem grows out of the fact that this restaurant is part of a national chain.Once, I suspect, that alone would have been enough to keep me out of the place.When I first moved to Aspen, there were no franchises or national chain stores in town. Indeed, there was a persistent rumor that the city had outlawed franchises.That rumor wasn’t true. It was just that Aspen’s character in those days and the tastes of the people who lived and visited here kept the chains from prospering. A few had tried and failed.Over the years since then, of course, the chains have flourished here. Whether you’re buying a thousand dollar handbag or a two buck cheeseburger, it’s hard not to patronize a national (or international) chain.It’s certainly been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the invasion of the chains – the only businesses who can afford the rent, it seems – have made Aspen a lot more like every place else in America.Shopping in Aspen these days isn’t all that different from shopping in New York or Beverly Hills or, I suspect, Cleveland. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. Get over it.)On the other hand, it was a national chain – The Gap – that made it possible to buy socks and underwear in downtown Aspen, after a long (and hygienically challenged) period when those basic items were not sold anywhere in town.Anyway, back in the day when everything was local, if you had a problem with a store in Aspen, you’d find yourself feuding with a real, flesh and blood, local businessman. It was probably someone you saw – and snarled at – several times a week.These days, if you have a beef with an Aspen store, you’re likely to find yourself wrestling with an enormous, faceless, multi-national corporation.Which brings us to the specifics of my problem.The new restaurant in question is Ruth’s Chris Steak House. People have given it great reviews and several times recently friends have suggested we go there.But I won’t go.I don’t have anything against the people who run the local restaurant. I don’t know anything about them. My problem is with the chain itself.Specifically, it is with the fact that Ruth’s Chris pays Sean Hannity – a right-wing talk radio thug – to do personal endorsement ads for the restaurants on his show.Sean Hannity is one of the most disgraceful people in the American public arena today. I don’t mind conservatives. I have conservative friends. (Wait a minute … let me think … yes! I do.) Hannity isn’t conservative. He’s a rude, pin-headed, dishonest thug. He’s despicable.And Ruth’s Chris pays him to say they’re his favorite restaurants. That’s supposed to make us eat there. Well, it turns my stomach.I think it’s a bizarre business decision to choose someone that polarizing to make a personal pitch for your product.(I can’t help but note that General Motors hired Hannity to do a major promotion based on his “You’re a Great American” tagline – and almost immediately Toyota passed GM in sales. Coincidence? You decide.)But, for me, here in Aspen, I can’t bear the thought that anyone might think – even for one ten-thousandth of a second – that I chose to eat in a restaurant because Sean Hannity had endorsed it.My choices – ethical or otherwise – are a personal problem. Chain stores are an Aspen problem. Sean Hannity is a national problem.So, sorry Ruth’s Chris, but I’ll have to satisfy my carnivorous desires elsewhere.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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