Aspen’s Explore Booksellers under contract to sell for $4.6 million |

Aspen’s Explore Booksellers under contract to sell for $4.6 million

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Explore Booksellers is under contract to be sold for $4.6 million in a cash deal that includes the historic Main Street house in Aspen and $200,000 for books, furniture, computers and other business assets, according to a motion filed Friday in current owner Samuel Wyly’s bankruptcy case.

The buyer was identified in the motion as Explore 221 Main LLC. The company isn’t registered yet with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The limited liability company is owned “by an individual who resides at least part time in Aspen,” the motion said. The person is no relation to Wyly, it added.

Wyly filed for bankruptcy Oct. 19 after a New York judge determined he and his late brother Charles’ estate owe up to $400 million to the Securities Exchange Commission for hiding stock holdings in offshore accounts.

Wyly had listed Explore for sale even before that decision. The popular, independent bookstore in an 1886 Victorian house has been on the market for 200 days, according to a listing in the Aspen-Glenwood Springs Multiple Listing Service. The original asking price was $6.5 million. It was later reduced to $5.5 million.

“The Explore Property is not a profitable venture; Explore RE’s only business purpose is to hold real property in support of a semi-philanthropic business endeavor.”
from a motion filed for Sam Wyly

Wyly, a Dallas businessman who lives part time in Woody Creek, purchased Explore for $4.4 million in March 2007. He plowed $500,000 into the building in 2009 for upgrades and improvements, the real estate listing said.

His wife, Cheryl, owns the books and other inventory and operates the business.

Bookstore’s fate unknown

Lawyers for Sam Wyly filed a motion in the Dallas division of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for authority to sell Explore. The motion alleges the Aspen bookstore isn’t subject to a “freeze” that affects many of Wyly’s other assets in the bankruptcy proceeding.

“In this Case, the Debtor will be steadily working to monetize certain estate assets in order to satisfy the allowed claims of creditors,” Wyly’s motion said. “The sale of the Explore Property is just the beginning of that process.”

If the sale is approved, Wyly will use the proceeds to pay off a debt to an Alabama bank that loaned him the money to buy the bookstore, the motion said. Compass Bank claims it is owed more than $4.4 million by Wyly’s company that owns the bookstore.

Wyly’s attorneys want the sale to take place as soon as possible after approval by the bankruptcy court, but no later than Jan. 21.

What happens after the sale isn’t clear. Karen Setterfield, a commercial real estate broker in Aspen, has the listing on the property. She said she had “an incredible amount of activity” on Explore since it was listed. The interest came in waves and one of those waves came last week, she said.

“The overwhelming interest is to keep it a bookstore,” she said of the people who inquired about Explore. However, she said, “I have no knowledge of the interest by this buyer.”

Another real estate broker is working with the buyer, she said, and that broker didn’t want to be identified.

Committee isn’t playing a role

Former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling is a founder of the Save Explore Committee, which aims to keep Explore operating. He said the group knew it couldn’t raise the funds the buy the building and inventory, but it hoped to work with a buyer to support operations. Stirling was married to Kathryn Thalberg, who opened Explore in 1975.

Stirling said the committee hasn’t been in contact with the prospective buyer. He said he couldn’t speculate on the bookstore’s fate. He said leaders of the committee hope the bookstore remains a bookstore.

Stirling said it was his understanding that the buyer is a woman who was brought to the listing broker by another real estate agent.

Wyly’s motion provided clues to one imminent change and the uphill battle facing bookstores these days. The motion said a condition of the sale is that Pyramid Bistro will be informed that its lease will be terminated and it must vacate the property no later than April 30.

In addition, the motion said Explore Booksellers didn’t make money for Sam Wyly’s Explore Booksellers & Bistro Real Estate LLC. “The Explore Property is not a profitable venture; Explore RE’s only business purpose is to hold real property in support of a semi-philanthropic business endeavor,” the motion said.

The next owner will apparently have to turn the business around, continue the philanthropy or change uses. The permitted uses for the property are for a single-family home, duplex, multi-family housing, office, restaurant, retail, office, bed-and-breakfast lodge, timeshare lodge, academic, arts, cultural, civic and public purposes.

Any change in use would require a land-use application. A major development would require approval by the Historic Preservation Commission.

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