Letter: It’s time to reel in the carpetbaggers
September 17, 2014
While I appreciate the positive reporting by Karl Herchenroeder of my presentation to the Aspen City Council on Sept. 9, regarding the proliferation of outside "pop-up" vendors competing with "12-month-a-year" local businesses, the editorial "Retailers shouldn't dictate their competition" (Sept. 12, The Aspen Times) attempts to simplify this complex issue and is wrong in its premise that the City Council would be "setting a precedent" to disallow this type of business activity in Aspen.
In fact, the City Council has already set a precedent of "dictating" what businesses can and can't be in the downtown core by scuttling the barbecue festival after pressure from local restaurants that were affected by the loss of business during a three-day period. In addition, both Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Adam Frisch commented on the issue of food trucks being prohibited from setting up in the downtown core in order to protect the local restaurant community.
To suggest that this type of legislation would inhibit an out-of-town street performer or a child's lemonade stand from setting up shop downtown as relevant examples trivializes the overall problem and is simply ridiculous. Other than "Lemonade Day" sponsored by The Buddy Program, I would doubt that a pop-up lemonade stand would be allowed on downtown sidewalks or the pedestrian malls. Other than music students, I have never seen any street performers (local or out-of-town!), so I don't know if the zoning prevents this or not.
The increase in out-of-town, pop-up businesses coming to Aspen during high-season weeks to sell their wares has gotten out of hand. These businesses are "leaking" millions of dollars of sales away from local businesses and not necessarily contributing significantly to the sales tax base of our town. Moreover, some of these businesses are using false or misleading advertising, breaking sign codes with "blimp trucks" or pop-up real estate-style ad boards set up throughout town and selling works that are dubious and often misrepresented to potential buyers. Are these the kind of businesses we want our visitors to Aspen to experience while they are here?
If "Aspen consumers should be afforded as many (retail) choices as possible," then why are there limits on how large a retail space can be in the downtown core? I believe it is to prevent "big box" or large retailers from coming to town and changing our small-town character as well as creating an unfair advantage for the local businesses that work hard to survive in a seasonal market.
I realize that there are always going to be "carpetbaggers" who come to affluent tourist towns to "skim the cream" off the top during high-season weeks and that it would be difficult to prevent this sort of business activity from happening all the time. However, in the past 10 years, certain businesses have essentially set up shop here throughout the entire season by renting hotel space several times per month, thereby never paying annual expenses, providing employment with benefits to locals or contributing to our local charities. Whether these businesses are required to report accurate sales tax collection reports is another issue, as well.
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Finally, it should be noted that some of these businesses — "Seized Assets Sales," the Art and Antique Fair or Art Aspen — do a formidable amount of full-page, color advertising in both newspapers and local magazines. From that standpoint, I can see why the local media would be less than interested in seeing these businesses go away. I urge the City Council and local government to continue to explore the appropriateness and legality of these businesses and whether they are a benefit to our economy and the character of our town.
Owner, Galerie Maximillian