Save the Isis? No, save Aspen
I feel a little silly agreeing with every other columnist in town – on general principle, I just hate to be so agreeable – but I think the city needs to buckle down and buy the damn Isis Theatre.If there’s a way they can include in the deal a public whipping of the lame-brain developers who got us into this mess, that’d be great, but I doubt we can get that.I’d settle for those involved being required to wear a “Scarlet ‘G'” for “Greed” whenever they appear on the streets of Aspen – but even such a mild, literary punishment is probably out of the question.In fact, as always, the wages of greed seem likely to turn out to be a healthy profit.So be it.We need to be concerned with the future of Aspen – and we’ll just have to let the cosmos (or, if you prefer, a vengeful Old Testament God) handle the appropriate punishment later on.Right now, most of those who object to the city buying the movie house point out the high price and the fact that the theater will likely never make a profit.Their objections bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment about people who know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”Yes, the Isis is too expensive and it will certainly never show a profit. (That would seem to be the result of the developer’s greed and poor business calculations … but we don’t need to go back over that again, do we?)But that ignores the true value of the Isis.The Isis is one of the last remaining “real local businesses” in Aspen. By “real local business,” I don’t mean “locally owned” – although locally owned businesses are becoming rare enough in town – I mean the kind of genuine small-town business you might find in a genuine small town anywhere in the world.One of the great things about Aspen was that it was “a real town” – as opposed to a manufactured phony “village” like Vail.We all know the riff: Aspen was founded more than a century ago. It has history. It was a town long before it become a resort. By now, admittedly, most of that reality has been scrubbed away. These days, it’s closer to the truth to say that Aspen used to be a real town – still, even that’s a lot better than being a Disneyland creation.Aspen used to be a great blend of classy and funky, side by side.The White Kitchen was right around the corner from The Copper Kettle. Sardy’s was a genuine hardware store – and when you went in to buy a pound of nails, you might be rubbing elbows with multimillionaires. The Burger Factory was right across the street from the Hotel Jerome (which was pretty funky in its own right back then).OK. Never mind. The point is, those bits and pieces of real-world flavor are mostly gone. They’ve been replaced with handbag museums and cashmere emporiums.Yes, there are still a few remaining outposts of genuine real-world funk, awash in our sea of frequently phony “class.” Make your own list, I’m running out of space here.And, to tell the truth, even the Isis itself isn’t nearly as real as it used to be. All that remains of the original small-town movie theater is the (slightly mangled) façade. Behind it stands a new building, with a multimillion-dollar condominium perched on top and a five-screen movie-plex crammed inside.It’s not what it once was, but it’s a lot better than anything else we’re likely to get. And we need to hang on to the last shreds of our real-town heritage.And, just to be clear, I’m not shouting “Save the Isis!”I’m shouting, “Save Aspen!”I don’t think it’s too late. Yet.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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