But now city leaders are worrying that all the high living is destroying the exclusive small-town allure of their former hippie hangout and mining outpost. Aspen's more modest-living, year-round residents have looked on in dismay as a flood of luxury retailers have replaced their unique, independent shops, which no longer can afford the lofty rents. Aspen's 20-block downtown now counts 24 jewelry stores and roughly 30 high-end chains.
Aspen's city council must make a decision on the downtown's fate by year end, when a yearlong moratorium on approvals for downtown construction will expire. The hiatus was intended to provide city officials time to determine the downtown's direction after an historic independent restaurant and movie theater both closed.
Among measures the council is considering are caps on the number of luxury chains and jewelry stores allowed downtown. It is also mulling subsidizing at-risk stores deemed "essential commercial uses," like pharmacies and laundromats. That assistance could entail public-private partnerships that defray rent or incentives for developers to build ancillary space, such as basements or second floors, that could be occupied by local retailers.