Start Writing a Eulogy, Because Aspen’s Culture is on its Deathbed


Courtesy of Aspen Times

Aspen’s beloved Main Street Bakery, a local favorite, closed down after 27 years

Aspen’s local restaurants and shops bring the town its diversity and culture. For instance, Mawa McQueen, owner of Mawa’s kitchen, is the Ivory Coast native behind Aspen’s only black-owned restaurant. However, these same, culturally-rich local businesses are being driven out of Aspen one by one with ever-increasing rent and impossible prices. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only made these prices more impossible.

Aspen is monopolizing, and not in a progressive manner. Although developers see the economic benefits behind replacing local businesses with high-end luxury brands, they are not seeing the loss of culture that follows. If developers are indeed seeing this loss of culture in Aspen, do they not care?

Aspen’s rapid monopolization is not just erasing its working class. By driving out local businesses one by one, Aspen is erasing its culture. While that sounds grim and worrisome, worry, because the beloved Aspen that locals know and love has an open grave awaiting it.

Aspen has already lost some of its oldest and most beloved local restaurants: Little Annie’s, Shlomo’s Deli, Taster’s Pizza, L’Hostaria R Ristorante, Peach’s Corner Cafe, Hops Culture, Main Street Bakery, and not to mention Boogie’s curly fries and milkshakes.

Restaurants like these are, once again, Aspen’s hub for diversity and culture… and Aspen is destroying them, replacing them.

“20 years ago… Aspen has changed, Aspen is just not the same as it was 20 years ago. Of course, I do not expect Aspen to stay, I mean things change, life is constantly changing, but the essence of who we were, I say we because I feel that I am part of the community, I am an Aspenite, who we were vanished. What we stand for, vanished. It has become this glamor,” McQueen said.

McQueen continued, “They always painted Aspen as so glamorous, but it never actually was. Before they used to paint a picture of Aspen that was not true, now it has become a reality because of recent choices.”

What is the ever-disappearing Aspen that locals know and love? If Aspen had a definition, it would be defined by its friendly local businesses, cultural restaurants, art, and colloquial “Mom-and-Pop” shops. Aspen is Mawa’s Kitchen, the Grateful Deli, the Hickory House, and Big Wrap.

The essence of Aspen is its culture and diversity, brought by these small local businesses. The essence of Aspen is not its luxury-brand stores standing solely for tourist satisfaction. Locals do not even bother to look into the windows of Dior, Gucci, or Prada.

Yet, Aspen’s identity is being suffocated by money. According to McQueen, local businesses and restaurants seal and validate Aspen’s culture. What is Aspen without them? A replica of Hollywood? Los Angeles?

“If only they were taking something away and were replacing it equally, I would be fine with it. Again, change is good, bring on more diversity. But they’re not doing that. We need that small-town feel, we need that community. We don’t need high-end boutiques on every corner,” McQueen said.

The effects of lost community and culture are not just felt by local businesses, but also by Aspen locals themselves. Lewis Brown, senior at AHS, has grown up in Aspen and is experiencing these changes firsthand.

“I went to Main Street Bakery every day as a kid. I loved it so much. It was my favorite… and now it’s gone,” Brown said.

The culture of Aspen is on its deathbed, and cannot be revived if this non-progressive monopolization continues to suffocate small local businesses. Aspen is a magical place, so why can’t all classes of people feel its magic regardless of their wealth? By eliminating accessibility of resources, Aspen is erasing one class: the working class that can’t afford lunch in Aspen anymore.

“You come here, you find something, a small and peaceful community that you love, why would you destroy it? We all deserve to live, shop, dine, and recreate in Aspen. That is the question I am asking [developers], what will Aspen be 20 years from now?” McQueen said.