History of Paradise building has deep roots in community
In 1946 my father, Russell “Rut” Volk, purchased the lots where Paradise bakery is located from Pitkin County for the back taxes of $111.34. I still have memories as a boy of standing above the abandoned sunken lot that was full of discarded vestiges from the foregone mining age. Russell, who was very much a believer in civic duty, felt that the community needed a modern filling station.
The small Sinclair gas station that he built became a fundamental part of downtown Aspen from 1956 until 1986 and supported many other small businesses such as the Cookie Munchers (predecessor to Paradise Bakery), Crazy Shirts and the beloved Popcorn Wagon. And so, out of pure luck, strategy and progress, our former abandoned lot became an integral part of downtown Aspen where people would congregate, enjoy edible treats and share warm company.
My father died in 1973 and in 1986, the Volk family (four siblings) decided to develop the corner into a commercial property that would better serve the future needs of the community. The city proposed purchasing the property for a small park, but in a bond election in June 1986 this idea was defeated by the Aspen citizens in a landslide 70% to 30% vote.
As a result, our family felt obligated to provide an area which benefited the Aspen community as a whole. With input from developer Don Fleisher the plan for the building, by honoring the City’s required 25% “beneficial” open space, evolved into the iconic Paradise Corner, the undisputed center of downtown Aspen.
At once Paradise Bakery became the new gathering place for everyone in town. The ambience was enhanced with the addition of hired musicians, a cost which was equally shared between our family and the tenants. All ages came to enjoy the music, ice cream, cookies, hot drinks, and natural beauty while being exposed to classical, jazz, and other genres of music, all of which made for countless enjoyable summer evenings for locals and tourists alike.
As an owner and trustee, I always had a dilemma: Is Paradise Bakery such a valuable resource for the community and for the other tenants who benefited from the additional foot traffic worth the lesser total rent over time? I knew that when I’d ask any local or tourist where they’d want to meet, the answer was nearly always “Paradise.”
It was, and still is, a destination for families, locals and tourists alike, something that is sadly becoming a rarer commodity in our unique community.
The Hecht family, who bought the property in 2012, recently faced my same dilemma. Is it worth the perceived cost to retain the anchor to this iconic corner, and thereby maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with the community? I know what my father would have said.
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Richard Compton’s life will be celebrated in an informal gathering on Oct. 23 from 1-3 p.m. at the Pine Creek Cookhouse. All are welcome.