Letter: Drained of character
I lived in Aspen beginning in the late 1950s, through the 1960s and 1970s and into the early 1980s, a sufficient length of time to be interested in what ways the town has changed since. I hear from fellow former Aspenites, and some current residents, that Aspen is not only worse but plain bad. In this letter, I’m going to pile on. On a recent and rare visit, I set out not to find some evenhanded best and worst but only the worst. There were several immediate candidates for badhood, examples that can stand for the whole of latter-day Aspen. There was the Independence Building, from whose rooms you could hear music students practicing and where the famously eccentric Ed Brennan ran a kind of ski-town flophouse called Ed’s Beds. Now? It’s been overrun and occupied by the arriviste haberdasher Ralph Lauren, peddling his imitation elegance. No more Brennans in Aspen, I’m pretty sure. A second stunningly bad example was a men’s clothing store called, without any irony I could see, Testosterone. There was a time, apparently long gone, when such a name would have been laughed off the Aspen stage.
But these are mere examples. To find a common theme, it’s necessary to consider high-end retail in general. From street level, it’s hard to see the difference among, say, Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. What presents itself is sameness and uniformity. In its upscaly way, downtown Aspen offers no more variety than any American suburb with its inevitable Taco Bell/KFC/Baskin Robbins/Dunkin’ Donuts. One searches in vain for small pockets of eccentricity, never mind funk. They, like many priced-out locals, have fled the scene, leaving no forwarding address.
There are exceptions, made glorious given their savorless surroundings. Carl’s Pharmacy still does what it’s been doing for decades; you never know what you’re going to find there or in the Miners’ Building across the street. Explore Booksellers has survived the death of Katherine Thalberg and swift-boat ownership to remain one of the two or three best bookstores in Colorado. But apart from its special natural setting, Aspen’s downtown offers a boring cityscape, no more interesting than Topeka’s.
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