Samuel Wagner: Aspen feels like it’s back to that offseason community |

Samuel Wagner: Aspen feels like it’s back to that offseason community

on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Walking around town as the fall offseason winds down and businesses attempt to staff up for the winter, I’m struck by the return of community that felt like it has been put on hold the past year or more. As someone who has lived here for a while (although only a few years, so I can’t speak to how bona fide my credentials are), Aspen has started to feel like the small town that it’s been in the past, a feeling that being frozen and fractured by COVID.

To put it bluntly, the customer comes first in a place like this. Obviously. Even as ski resorts were shut down in a matter of days, old habits meant the town tried to help the tourists and take care of anyone who wanted to spend time here. Fast forward through the past 18 months or more, and the drumbeat of restaurants, bars, stores and accommodations have ingrained this idea of supporting the newcomers, even as those same businesses were crumbling due to circumstances around them. This isn’t intended to be an indictment on any store, small-business owner or mandate, I’m just trying to piece together what has happened around us.

But now, this season is the first one, at least in my mind, that has offered a reset in the COVID age. I’m able to walk around town, return to my favorite places and say, “Oh, I remember you. Glad you’re still here.” The idea of being a “regular” seems like a possibility in a highly irregular time. While cases are still too high — basically everywhere — vaccines have kept deaths and hospitalizations somewhat lower in Pitkin County and the town is able to have an actual offseason, instead of a pre-winter planning meeting on how best to stay afloat.

Of course, the community isn’t just back to being its perfect self. Ask anyone around here, and they’ll tell you which closed business in town was their favorite. And COVID is still an issue. I’m writing this just a few hours before I was supposed to see Aspen Community Theatre’s production of “Company.” I was excited to see my friends and plenty of locals return to put on a show, not just for the tourists and visitors, but for everyone. However, a positive test from one of the actors shut down the final two productions of the professional-level show, and the community is worse off for it. The only silver lining is they were at least able to stage the production a few times, an impossibility last year.

It always feels difficult when trying to balance the good and the bad, especially when there’s plenty to see that’s wrong. But it’s worth the effort. As well, maybe this column is just a continuation of my last one, understanding family and putting it in perspective — your local community just as much an extension as your own blood. Or perhaps it again is the holidays and the end of the year making me take stock of all that’s gone on, but to me, there’s a sense of Aspen as a town, rather than a destination, returning to the streets.

Samuel Wagner is a copy editor and page designer for The Aspen Times.


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