Basalt’s municipal election is about one week away and five candidates are vying for three open seats on the Town board. One of the biggest issues is business. While downtown stores struggle, the new urban Willits area is busy. Mike Scanlon is Basalt’s Town Manager.
"The biggest issue for Basalt is that there’s this pressure to kind of tear us into two pieces, the Willits piece and the old downtown or the village piece. And, I think it’s going to be incumbent on us as a community and as staff members here in the town of Basalt, with the help of our elected officials to continue to sew those pieces together," he says.
Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen hit the streets of Willits and downtown to get some thoughts from a few business owners and employees. She filed this report.
Marci: "I’m standing along Midland Avenue in downtown Basalt where traffic is busy on a weekday afternoon. Business owners here say not enough people are stopping to eat and shop."
Inside Cuvee Bistro in downtown, the staff is busy stacking dishes and preparing food. Still, owner Mitch Levy says his restaurant isn’t busy enough.
"We are lacking in traffic, we don’t have people coming to town, so we need to figure out ways to do that."
After surviving the economic downturn, he says his business has sputtered, with unpredictable sales. He’d like to see the new members of the Town board think outside of the box and figure out a way to get more people shopping and eating downtown.
"Just a desire for growth. A desire for growth and a desire to talk with all of the people that own the buildings and spaces and try to get rents that are affordable, so that we can encourage people to open new businesses and drive traffic into the the downtown, instead of what feels like forcing them away," he says.
He’d like to see a more inviting entrance to downtown and revitalization efforts and improved special events.
Next door at Frying Pan Kitchen, owner Jamie Ramey echoes the same concerns.
"I think the big issues are the future of Basalt, especially the core and where it’s going and the future developments, trying to balance out Willits and downtown Basalt so there’s not such a difference between them, like there is now."
He says Willits is newer, cleaner, busier and there’s a greater variety of businesses there. He says the historic end of town needs to catch up. He’d like to see action from the board.
"They’ve been kind of talking about this the last year and a half, two years, about getting Basalt going on the same pace and not, more or less, like two towns. I mean, you can plan and plan and plan, but I really haven’t seen a whole lot done in the past year even though it’s been a very big issue," he says.
Across town in Willits, long-time Basalt resident Cindy Kohart organizes clothing at Susie’s consignment store. She’s worked here for years and just like her downtown counterparts, she thinks the biggest local problem is revitalizing old town.
"Downtown Basalt is practically dead. A group of us were speaking yesterday about how we thought we could put a shot in the arm, and the old Clark’s grocery store would be an ideal spot to put a co-op or a farmer’s market year-round."
The consignment store is doing well. It’s been here a year and the nearby Whole Foods helps bring in business. She says she’d like to see new ideas from the town board.
"Get a draw in town for people. Like, Trader Joe’s would be great (laughs). I hear sometimes Trader Joe’s follows where Whole Foods goes, so it might be worth looking into," she says.
The issue of revitalizing downtown will likely be a topic at Monday's candidate forum. It starts at 6pm at the Basalt library.