Kemo Sabe horse parking in downtown Aspen galloping along

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
A woman poses with 'Nancy Boy' a horse who hangs out at Kemo Sabe, an western apparel store, on Galena Street earlier this month
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

The downtown Aspen retailer is proposing to buy a parking space in front of its storefront to make way for a hitching rail and a few horses in an effort to create an experience for customers.

Representatives of Kemo Sabe, a Western apparel store on Galena Street, went before the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors earlier this week to make their pitch.

“We are always trying to be different,” Wendy Kunkle, president of Kemo Sabe, told the board. “We want to take retail to a whole new level.”

Tom Yoder, owner of the store, went before Aspen City Council last month to explain that next level.

He said the idea blossomed after they moved from the Bidwell Building to the 1883 Wheeler Block.

Yoder said they put significant investment into the building’s interior and exterior and soon people noticed, taking photographs and hanging out.

“(It was) something that had seldom — more accurately, never — occurred with the Bidwell Building,” Yoder told council. “So, we began trying to understand why our building is such a draw. The answer is that we are old Aspen, Aspen like it used to be, Aspen like it should be.”

The interest in the building and in Kemo Sabe multiplies when they have horses in town, according to Yoder. He said hundreds of people take photos, and guests and locals comment about Aspen having more personality and swagger.

“This marvel has caused us to realize what a difference Kemo Sabe could make by acquiring a single parking space directly in front of our entrance to be used exclusively as open space and for horses, approximately two or three days per week,” Yoder told council. “The no parking sign would be displayed on a hitching rail, made with recycled cable from the gondola and chairlifts.”

Kunkle told the ACRA board that people constantly ask when the horses are coming back.

“Bringing in the horses romances the West,” she said, adding that kind of experience is unique to Aspen and leaves a lasting impression on those who visit.

She said they are working with the city on getting approval to buy one space and put some sort of soft surface down for the horses.

Then the sidewalk in front of the store would be transformed into a porcelain tile to imitate the old wooden one that used to be in front of the building. It also would be snowmelted.

Gyles Thornely, principal of Connect One Designs who is designing the storefront, told the ACRA board that, “The sidewalk today is crap.”

Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, said a parking space like the one that’s in front of Kemo Sabe goes for between $6,000 and $7,000.

He said the idea is to try a six-month or one-year experiment to see how it works.

Osur asked the ACRA board for its opinion on whether other spaces should open up for this type of experiential retail, noting that selling items in the right of way is prohibited.

“It has to be something engaging,” he said. “We are looking to create an experience.”

ACRA board members were enthusiastic about the idea, but expressed concern on how to limit the amount of spaces being used for outdoor retail use.

“We want to create great experiences for guests,” said ACRA board member Maria Morrow, suggesting that five spots could be allocated based on set criteria around experiential retail ideas.

Osur said Wednesday that internal discussions among city officials need to occur before a decision will be made or how the process would be carried out.

Mayor Steve Skadron, who represents the city on the ACRA board, thanked his fellow members for being open-minded on the concept, adding that he wants them to be the champions for it.

“This is the easy part,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s your challenge to carry this forward. … Be prepared for pushback.”

ACRA President Debbie Braun said the organization’s public affairs committee is engaging with retailers already on other issues so, “I would hope this won’t be a hard sell.”

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