Aspen Book Store, the little bookstore tucked into just under 300 square feet at the Little Nell Hotel, is closing Sept. 8, the Tuesday after Labor Day.
John S. Edwards, the owner and dedicated proprietor of the general-interest bookstore, has been a fixture in the luxury hotel since it opened in December 1989.
Edwards said the decision to step out from his regular perch behind the store’s small counter — what he called “the executive suite of my own little corporation” — is based on a range of reasons. On a personal level, he is ready after working six to seven long days per week for 20 years to try something else in life — perhaps in publishing, perhaps in the hotel business — and take some time off to get to his own pile of books he’s been meaning to read.
“I’m fortunate to have spent as many years as I have in Aspen,” said Edwards, who moved to Aspen after college. He worked in television production at KSPN-TV2 before approaching Aspen Skiing Co., which was building the Nell, about creating a small bookstore.
He then designed the space, which works remarkably well for how small it is.
Now the store’s current lease is up for renewal at the end of September, book sales have been hit by a number of trends other local bookstores are feeling — including Amazon.com and the computerized Kindle book reader — and the Little Nell is going to close this fall to renovate 86 of its 92 hotel rooms.
“It is a good transitional point,” Edwards said.
The $18 million renovation project starts Sept. 8 and John Speers, the Nell’s general manager, has told the retailers in the hotel that at least the first 10 days of construction will not be conducive to business.
SkiCo, which owns the “five-star, five-diamond” hotel, is not charging its hotel retail clients rent during the room renovation project, which will run until Dec. 1.
Hotchfield Jewelers and the Dennis Basso fur store, next to the bookstore, are planning to close for one week to 10 days in September and then see how the renovation is going after that.
Both stores plan to reopen as soon as practical and stay in their current locations off the hotel lobby.
Dustin Franz/Aspen Daily News
John S. Edwards, owner of the Aspen Book Store, arranges books in the window before closing on Tuesday night. The Aspen Book Store’s last day in business is Sept. 8.
The hotel also plans to operate its Montagna restaurant for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday during the renovation — as only the rooms on the upper floors are being renovated and not the lobby. Ajax Tavern on the slopeside of the hotel will also be open this fall.
Speers is sorry to see Edwards close the bookstore and tried to find a situation that would work for him.
“It is a great amenity for our guests, but unfortunately fewer and fewer people are utilizing that amenity,” Speers said. “Running a bookstore is just very challenging. He has seen demand drop off significantly.”
The closing of Aspen Book Store leaves one remaining bookstore in the upper valley, Explore Booksellers on Aspen’s Main Street. Town Center Booksellers in Basalt closed in March after a run of four-and-a-half years.
Edwards said he admires the decision by billionaire Sam Wyly to purchase Explore Booksellers in 2007 and keep it open, but it did factor into his own decision.
“In the bigger sense, I kind of knew when Katherine Thalberg passed away, there was either a bigger opportunity or I would be in a circumstance where I would have to evaluate,” Edwards said.
Thalberg, who died in 2006, owned and operated Explore Booksellers for years.
In addition to serving as a bookstore just off the hotel’s elevators, Edwards’ Aspen Book Store also functioned for the Nell as a mini convenience store, newsstand and video rental store.
But he says his customer base included not only hotel guests but also locals and second-home owners.
“It has always been a mixture,” Edwards said. “It is hard to put a number on it. But I’ve been fortunate to be here at the hotel.”
The bookstore’s success depended on Edwards’ book-ordering skills, as he worked with virtually no storage despite the tiny size of the store.
Customers sought out fiction to read on vacation, books as gifts, children’s books, and books about Aspen, the outdoors and the environment, he said.
Edwards plans to reopen in mid-September and sell off his remaining inventory. He plans to donate any proceeds to a literacy program that provides books to those in need.