Sunday, September 30, 2012

Republicans in Aspen

The Maroon Bells, located near Aspen. Photo taken by Nan early on Saturday, September 29, 2012After living there for twenty years, Nan and I moved away from Aspen a little over seven years ago. We still get back there a few times a year to ski and visit friends, and we notice changes that we might not if we still lived there. This was especially true this past weekend when we made a quick overnight trip to visit a good friend.

On our way into Aspen, we passed the old Poppies restaurant building. The business closed a few years ago and the Victorian-era building has been sitting empty, but it is now serving as the local Republican Party headquarters. There was a sign to that effect above the door and signs promoting Republican candidates plastered all over the wrought iron fence out front. Nan and I both expressed surprise, and I reminded her of an Independence Day several years ago, when some local Republicans marched in the annual parade carrying a banner announcing themselves. I had made the comment: "There they go, all four of them."

Bumper sticker: "Drill here. Drill now. Pay less." Note the Texas license plate.Times seem to have changed. We saw Romney bumper stickers and yard signs all over town. Aspen used to pride itself on being a tiny island of Democrats in the sea of Colorado Republicans. It also prided itself on what was called "messy vitality," a kind of small-town funkiness arising from the co-existence of folks spanning the entire economic spectrum. Those points of pride are less in evidence these days, and the reasons are obvious. 

In Aspen, the Great Recession hit late, but it hit hard. During the depths, the all-important tourist dollars dwindled to the point where many businesses, especially the mom-and-pop ones, closed permanently. The businesses that survived were the ones that catered to the uber-wealthy, the people least affected by the economic downturn. Surrounded by empty retail spaces, businesses selling thousand-dollar cashmere scarves and five-figure handbags continued to flourish. During this period, downtown felt like it used to feel during off-season, when all the locals cleared out of town, except that it was now year round. 

Republican booth at Saturday morning farmers market. Note the lack of foot traffic.What we noticed as we walked around town yesterday is that those empty retail spaces, in the wake of modest economic recovery, are filling in with even more stores peddling super-expensive wares. Rather than becoming more affordable as a result of the recession, Aspen appears to have become less so. It has always had the reputation of being the playground of the rich and famous, but now it seems to be the exclusive domain of the "one percenters." And with that cachet comes the Republican mindset that was so much in evidence all around town.

The good news is that President Obama is ahead in the polls in Colorado and will probably take both the state and the election again on November 6. If he does, I hope that the signs and stickers will come down and that people will leave their divisions behind for another four years to let Aspen return to its funky self.

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