Local businesses

An empty downtown Aspen is pictured on Monday. While almost every “nonessential” business has closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, one high-end ski shop is defending its decision to keep the lights on.

As most “nonessential” Aspen businesses close shop for the foreseeable future in the heat of the coronavirus pandemic, one local ski shop is defending its decision to keep the lights on.

Performance Ski owner Lee Keating said Monday that her main priority is to support her employees during this time — even as she receives backlash for staying open.

“[Some of my employees] live paycheck to paycheck,” Keating said from the shop on Monday after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday signed an executive order directing all of the state’s “noncritical” employers to reduce their in-person workforce by 50 percent.

“If we don’t pay them, they don’t eat,” she said. “And they don’t pay their rent.”

Over the past few days, one woman has called the shop from an unknown number daily accusing Keating of “murdering people” for remaining open. 

“Lee Keating, you are endangering peoples’ lives, and your business is being boycotted,” the anonymous woman shouted from the other end of the line. The woman told Keating that “Boycott Performance Ski” is now a hashtag online.

Others have taken to social media to attack nonessential businesses that are still open. A walk through downtown Aspen on Monday afternoon revealed that most nonessential businesses have closed — even retailers that were open one day before — or are open only by appointment.

Keating said she chooses not to engage with critics. She showed a photo of her daughter that one local resident posted to Facebook with a green virus graphic photoshopped over the face.

“For me, personally, I’m tough as nails,” she said of the backlash. “It does not matter.”

She emphasized again that her employees — from the sales staff to the woman who washes her windows each week — are her and her husband’s concern. If Performance Ski is forced to close, she said, they will still pay the staff.

“It’s unbelievable,” sales supervisor Kathleen Kauss said of this notion from behind the register Monday. “I don’t know many other employers who would do that.”

Keating pointed out that it’s also easy to keep the doors open (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day) as they undergo “end-of-season projects” — cleaning the shop, taking inventory, tuning and storing skis, etc.  

Referring to Polis’ executive order on Sunday, Keating said the shop is “following the rules” and that only a handful of the 15-person staff is still working. She said they are also social distancing within the more than 3,000-square-foot space across from Gondola Plaza.

Although unaffected by the condemnation, Keating said the communal support she’s received — such as one customer purchasing a $300 gift card to use in the future — has been “incredibly touching.”

Erica Robbie is the editor-in-chief of Local Magazine and Local Weekly as well as the arts & culture editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.