Skiing and shopping Aspen’s evolving economy

Friday, 6 March 2009 | Tags: , , , , ,

I've just returned from a girls' ski trip to Aspen, Colorado. My oh my did we have fun!! The weather was warm and sunny, the snow was light (it's extremely dry there), the restaurants world class. I even made a couple of Aspenite friends.

This was my second trip to the area and things were a little different this time ’round. Because even at this high class resort, the reality of the world economy was as clear as the blue skies above us.

The good news was it meant some serious sales in a small ski village with big city shopping. At Ralph Lauren, many items were marked down and then down again by as much as two-thirds. And at a ski shop (Performance Sports) selling hard-to-find ski apparel labels, the entire store was on sale for 50% off. I got a Bogner ski jacket for 200-bucks! Anyone who cares about alpine fashion knows that’s a steal.

“Boogie” is the place to by jeans in Aspen and again, racks and racks of jeans at a discount. And up the street at Tomorrow’s Laundry it was buy two, get the third one free. I haven’t seen so many big sales at so many stores at a place that prides itself on being the playground of the rich and fabulous in…well, ever. A month ago I found myself wandering the streets of New York’s upper east side and do you think any of those fancy retailers would budge? Not a nickel. (But then again, that was a month ago and everyone’s in even worse shape now, so perhaps I should go back.)

And there was something else I noticed too: bar none, it was the best service I’ve ever had in retail. The salespeople are hungry. At Performance Sports, the ski bum/sales clerk ran off his feet going up and down stairs to get me different sizes, colours and styles. He was full of suggestions for mixing and matching outfits and he was never once pushy. When I paid my bill he said, “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your business.” And ok, the fact that he was a hunk didn’t hurt.

At the buy-two-get-the-third-one-free store, when they didn’t have my size in a sweater, the saleswoman said, “we have it at our other store and I’d be happy to run over and pick it up.” I said I didn’t have time to wait and that maybe I’d come back tomorrow. She asked where I was staying and said she would be happy to send the sweater over to my hotel to try on, “no commitment necessary”. I thought that was a pretty big effort for a 75-dollar sweater.

All this is a refreshing change from Little Miss I-Can’t-Be-Bothered-To-Serve-You and Mr. You-Are-Lucky-We-Let-You-In-The-Store. Or perhaps the worst of all, Mrs. You’re-Obligated-To-Buy (she’s such a bitch, isn’t she?)

Of course there have always been great salespeople in some stores, but in my lifetime, whether I’m shopping for work or for fun, I’ve run into too many of the above characters. Having to work for a commission or just to keep a job isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a professional relationship that should be taken seriously. For too long, too many salespeople have seen this as a one-sided deal, and we consumers have settled for mediocre service. 

But while there was lots of stuff on sale in Aspen, there wasn’t a single sale at the mid to high level hotels I checked out. There were rooms available – the world is facing economic doom in a really big, really, really bad way – but some hotels won’t come down on rates. What gives?

I looked into it and learned that it’s because luxury hotels are more concerned with maintaining brand integrity than they are with filling beds. Translation: they don’t want to be seen to be slumming it by allowing average folks through the door. Understandable I suppose, but it’ll be interesting to see who survives and who doesn’t ,and which hotels go from five stars to two over the next few years.

In the meantime, my friends in the hotel business say the best way to get added value for your dollar is to inquire about extras. Because while the room rates might not be coming down just yet, you can often get free parking, free breakfast or even free spa treatments. All you have to do is ask. Make ‘em work for it, dear shoppers.

The girls

The girls



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