Starbucks in, Rocky Mountain Chocolate out in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Starbucks in, Rocky Mountain Chocolate out in Aspen

Rick Carroll | The Aspen Times

The chief operating officer of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory said Thursday that the longtime Aspen shop will close in March because the landlord won't renew its lease to make way for a Starbucks coffee shop.

"We were contacted by the landlord in a written letter that said they were regretfully not renewing our lease, and that they'd given it tremendous amount of thought and that it would be in the best interest of the Aspen community if they booted out Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and put in another Starbucks, despite the fact that we have been in Aspen since 1982," said Bryan Merryman of the Durango-based company in a telephone interview.

The company received the letter roughly two or three weeks ago, he said.

As such, the company also will close its location in the Snowmass Village mall, Merryman said, explaining that managers from the Aspen shop have delivered Rocky Mountain Chocolate products to the Snowmass location. With the Aspen shop soon to be history, that delivery system will no longer be available, he said.

The Snowmass location opened in 1988. The two stores have a combined staff count of 14 to 16 employees, Merryman said.

The Aspen location, at 401 E. Cooper Ave., is owned by Valley Investments LLC, which is tied to the M&W Properties, run by Tony Mazza and Frank Woods. An official with M&W declined to comment Thursday about Starbucks occupying the space.

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"They basically kicked us out of Aspen," Merryman said. "They offered us another space in one of their locations that would cost too much for us."

Roughly 250 attendees at Thursday's Aspen Board of Realtors 2018 Annual Market Update luncheon were told of the development at the St. Regis Aspen Resort hotel, where appraiser-consultant Randy Gold broke the news during his presentation.

"It's kind of good news and bad news," Gold told the gathering. "The bad news is if you're a chocolate lover, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is departing. If you're a coffee lover, you'll be happy because Starbucks is taking its place."

In a follow-up interview, Gold said he expects the Starbucks store, which will be run by a franchisee and not directly by Seattle-based coffee company, to open in the early summer. Gold and commercial property broker Karen Setterfield confirmed Starbucks has signed a lease for the location.

Aspen has been without a Starbucks location since the company closed its shop in the Gondola Plaza in late August. That Starbucks shared its space with Aspen Sports, both of which were owned and operated by Vail Resorts. A Gorsuch sports and ski retailer now operates from that spot.

Merryman said the Aspen and Snowmass locations weren't big profit-turners, but they were important to the company's big picture.

"We're a Colorado company and Aspen was one of our first markets," he said, noting that Aspen "was fantastic for our brand."

He said the company has no recourse regarding the landlord's decision.

"I'm sure it was a financial decision," he said.

Even so, Merryman said entrance of Starbucks in place of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is at odds with the "movement to go local in most communities. We really considered ourselves a local company. And we're just sorry that after a really long run in Aspen and Snowmass we weren't offered a chance to match the rent."

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory paid roughly $9,000 a month in rent for its Aspen space, he said.

A publicly traded company, it has hundreds of locations throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Panama, the Philippines and South Korea. The shops are either corporate-owned or run by franchisees. The company was founded in 1981.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com