As winter season kicks off, the downtown commercial landscape has experienced some moves in the retail world with new arrivals and the changing of locations, yet several restaurant spaces will remain dark until next year.
Almost a dozen spaces that used to be restaurants in downtown Aspen will remain closed this winter season, including a handful that have been closed for several years.
The longest that have remained closed are Main Street Bakery, which ceased operations in 2016 and is owned by prominent landlord Mark Hunt, as well as the former Over Easy and Aspen Brewing Co. space on Hopkins Avenue, which the Hillstone Restaurant Group purchased in 2017.
Brian Biel, vice president of the restaurant group, which owns the White House Tavern next door, issued a similar statement last week that the company has made in previous years.
“Hillstone is working with the city of Aspen to pull out its building permit and expects to start work on a new project soon,” he said via email.
Hunt told The Aspen Times this past February he hoped to start construction within a few months, but that has not happened.
The space next to the empty Hillstone property that was most recently occupied by Tatanka, which is closed in 2021, is supposed to open by next summer as a Thai restaurant and a Japanese concept underneath, according to commercial real estate broker Angi Yang with Setterfield & Bright.
The former Aspen Sports Bistro and prior to that, Hops Culture, located on the Hyman Avenue mall, is under contract and will not be open this winter.
The restaurant space in the Golden Horn building on the corner of the Mill and Cooper pedestrian malls won’t be open until next winter, according to John Terzian, who represents the Los Angeles-based h. wood Group.
The hospitality group plans to open its third Nice Guy restaurant, which also has locations in Los Angeles and Dubai and pays homage to the era of mafia bars and restaurants and has an old-school Italian menu.
The group took over the space a year and a half ago, after the previous restaurant, Maru, closed in 2019.
The original plan was to be open in 2021 but delays due to the pandemic and permitting processes have slowed down, Terzian said.
He envisions it to be a great place for locals and tourists to hang out in a 1950s era Frank Sinatra and Palm Springs type of scene, with a warm living room feel and live music every night.
“We are super excited about it,” Terzian said last week.
The future proprietors of the Red Onion, Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce, planned to be open sometime this winter and now it’s likely sometime in 2023.
The space, also owned by Hunt, is part of almost an entire block on the Cooper Avenue mall being redeveloped into an RH storefront and a jazz center operated by Jazz Aspen Snowmass that has been under construction for years.
Having that much empty space on one block is concerning for Aspen Mayor Torre, who said last week that the vacancy rate in the commercial core, whether the places are spoken for or not, is damaging to the town for many reasons.
“When we have space that is not being utilized in our downtown core, that means that goods and services are not getting to both residents and visitors, and it’s all based on who we are as a town and who are we serving and how’s it coming back to us,” he said. “On top of that, there are tax implications with all these vacant spaces.”
Torre earlier this fall got support from his fellow council members to have staff investigate the possibility of a commercial vacancy tax.
Hunt’s other properties that used to house restaurants Aspen Pie and Nakazawa on the Mill Street mall are closed, as is the longtime Mexican restaurant Su Casa around the corner at 315 E. Hyman Ave.
The Cordts-Pearces, who also own the Wild Fig, will take over the former Nakazawa space and will also manage the Popcorn Wagon.
The spaces on the corner of Galena Street and Durant Avenue that housed Victoria’s Espresso and The Ski Shop will remain closed while Michael Goldberg, owner of the adjacent Belly Up, plans a new concept there.
Despite the restaurant vacancies, locals and tourists will have some new options this winter.
Parc Aspen, where L’Hostaria Ristorante used to be on Hyman Avenue, is slated to open this month.
Oakberry Acai Bowls and Smoothies recently opened next door at 616 E. Hyman Ave.
The former 7908 space on the Hyman Avenue mall is being remodeled into a new Japanese restaurant, Madame Ushi, along with a night club called Gala and is planned to be open soon.
The outdoor space at 401 E. Hyman Avenue on the pedestrian mall will be called the Whole Empanada, where Red Fox Yogurt operates in the summer.
Sant Ambroeus Café is supposed to be open soon at 520 E. Hyman Ave., with long-term plans to open in the Main Street Bakery spot.
There are several empty retail spaces, but they are all spoken for and are in various stages of renovations, according to Wang.
She said she is constantly being approached by retailers who want a presence in Aspen and there is no slowdown in the very high demand for prime retail locations.
“There are no spaces available,” said Wang, who handles just under about 50% of the leases in the commercial core and has a waiting list of prospective tenants. “It looks like we have a lot of vacancies, but we don’t.”