Making landlords pay
Vacationing in France, the only attempts I’ve made at writing lately are in love letters, sonnets and poetry. Needless to say, I am entirely out of practice with the skills required for writing a potent opinion column.Rather than taking wild hacks, making haphazard sharp, black slashes across off-white newsprint just to get my swing back in the groove, I thought it better to take a good swipe at an easy target this week. Local commercial landlords are my choice. They’re greedy! They’re rich! They’re mean! And, while they may not have sold out, they have leased out Aspen to the highest corporate bidders, without taking a damage deposit!These creeps are the reason that shopping in Aspen has gone to the birds, mostly the kind that lay golden eggs – or at least know how to hatch them. The rest of us are left with no choices to buy wares locally and are thus destined for frequent trips downvalley to Wal-Mart and Target to satisfy our constant needs for toilet paper and transient desires for underwear. With avarice as the propellant, they force us to congest traffic flows and burn gasoline like it’s money, heating up the planet in the process.Local landlords have made it impossible for locally owned businesses to operate, leaving would-be entrepreneurs with nothing left to do but sell dirt or increments of time on commission. Finally, and least forgivable of their sin surfeit, these parasites of profit make gobs of money in their first-of-the-month thieveries without so much as a modicum of work or worry expended!Ha, ha, this is so satisfying that I wrote it all, so far, without taking a breath. It didn’t take any thought, whatsoever. In fact, I was well on the way to easily passing my allotted weekly word count and was looking at hours of editing out indecent descriptions, dirty epithets and swear words to fit it all on one venomous page of searing copy. Damn! I should have never stopped to collect my thoughts!My brain began to work, and, as is apt to happen in such rare cases, the fun is ruined. In a moment of pause I relaxed to picture the idyllic small villages in the countryside of France, where every little shop on every little corner is owned and operated by little French people. Except for the avaricious landlords interceding, I reasoned, there is no reason why Aspen couldn’t be the same as these villainless villes. Why, every block in downtown Aspen could be filled with shops selling everything from bread, pastries, wine, and cheeses to … ah … ah … ah … Well, I know there are other things that they sold in those stores … ah … Postcards! Yes, that’s it – they could sell postcards, too!These are about the only things you can buy in quaint, little, locally owned French stores. Everything else Pierre and Marie need they get at Hypermarche, which I learned is French for Wal-Mart. Maman et papa can’t compete with the giant stores that sell everything from butter churns to ash urns. Independent Euro-retailers are left to peddle the few fresh perishables that the all-in-one superstores don’t handle.I compared this situation with another exotic place I visit frequently. Passing through the panhandle on my family’s semiannual sojourn into the deep-fryer of Texas, I have noticed that the Main streets of the small ranching towns located there are mostly boarded up and abandoned. The rents, where ghost shoppers haunt, are undoubtedly low, yet no shopkeeper is willing to invest anything to sell nothing to nobody.The reason why these once thriving streets are deserted is obvious once you are in the outskirts. There, big-box retailers’ parking lots are jammed and the former butcher, baker and candlestick maker are wearing blue vests, and greeting customers at the automatic sliding-glass doors. No local retailer can compete with them.I took these real-life observations from my worldly travels and tried to apply them to explain conditions right here. With improvements to Highway 82, the giant retailers of America are only 40 minutes and a couple of gallons of gasoline away. With improvements to the information superhighway, they are even closer than that! As it is, there is not a retailer in the valley that can survive by selling anything that the behemoths of business do. The fact that any still do is only testament that death by retail can be slow and painful, but, like all other death, no less certain.So it seems that, without even worrying about rent, a retailer in Aspen needs to figure out what can be sold here. Basically, it has to be something unique, something that folks can’t get at Wal-Mart or Target, because most likely a local shop won’t be able to buy it at wholesale from the suppliers for much less than what the giants sell the same stuff to the public for.I wracked my brain, thinking about what I would sell here if given the opportunity to own a shop and, hypothetically, pay zero rent. In the end, the list of items that I could sell that the big-boxes don’t was short: boutique clothing and accessories, art, real estate, and T-shirts that say “How’s Your Aspen?”Now then, as everybody knows, these are exactly the kinds of shops we already have on our mall. I don’t think we can reasonably expect to see any other types of small stores here no matter how low the rents might be gerrymandered by government. If you don’t make any sales, your monthly rent is irrelevant, and most likely in arrears.The irony in this whole thing is that the big-box retailers not only survive, but thrive because you and I are obsessively interested in chasing the lowest price without much genuine consideration for the consequences on local would-be or have-been retailers. They say that a penny saved is a penny earned. If that is the case, it would appear that our own greed, not the Aspen landlords’, has been the demise of the local retailer that we love, if only in cheap sentiment.Roger Marolt remembers buying model airplanes at The Hobby Shop. Then the real ones showed up and that was the end of that. Discount a note to him at email@example.com
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