Preserving Aspen’s charm |

Preserving Aspen’s charm

Aspen’s proposed chain-store ordinance is a moderate and sensible step to safeguard our uniqueness and historic small-town character.

Rather than banning formula chain stores, the ordinance only slows their long-term growth. All existing chain stores — along with the building spaces they inhabit — are exempt, as are 21 new building projects whose developers have already submitted proposals. The ordinance would simply require future landlords — after the current 21 projects are built — to submit new chain-store proposals to Planning and Zoning for review. If Planning and Zoning felt a future chain store to be local serving (e.g., another Gap) or to otherwise contribute to a balanced, healthy retail mix, Planning and Zoning could approve it.

So why is the ordinance so important? It sends a clear message that we care about Aspen’s uniqueness and historic character. It tells the world that we won’t let Aspen become “just a high-end mall with a mountain.”

Think of it as an insurance policy. If the number of chains doesn’t grow substantially (beyond those 21 new buildings), then the ordinance may never be needed. But if chain stores do continue to grow over the next 20 or 30 years, the ordinance gives our community a way to ensure that our downtown street level never becomes 100 percent chains. That would represent the ultimate homogenization of Aspen, and let’s hope we don’t live to see it.

Think of the pioneers of modern Aspen — people like Elizabeth Paepcke, Fritz and Fabi Benedict, Stuart Mace, Friedl Pfeifer, Patricia Moore, Fisher the Fixer, and countless others (and add Hunter to that list!). What would they say about downtown Aspen becoming a shopping mall filled with nothing but chain stores? I think I know.

As Ken Moore used to say, “Be brave, comrade.”

John Bennett

East Sopris Creek

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