Starting a business is no easy feat even when there’s not a global pandemic. Starting a business in the Roaring Fork Valley has its unique challenges also — the cost of living being high on the list.
Yet it can be done, and entrepreneurship and small businesses will be vital to the valley in both its near-term economic recovery and long-term economic resilience, one of the central themes of a recent report and study done by a group of locals who recently participated in the Roaring Fork Leadership program.
“It was pretty revealing as to how not only the impact COVID has had on our economy, especially our being a resort (area) that relies on tourism,” said Andrew Treat, one of the members of Team Four Score. “Talking to people who were impacted by it, it was really shocking.”
As part of a civic project through Roaring Fork Leadership, Team Four Score members interviewed local small-business owners “to explore the sustainability and need for entrepreneurialism as a solution for economic resiliency within the Roaring Fork Valley,” said the report, which was titled “Entrepreneurship in the Roaring Fork Valley.“
Treat noted that Team Four Score members also were surprised at the challenges valley entrepreneurs face.
“It really takes a lot of resources and time and effort to really put a plan into action, to put an idea into action,” Treat said. “And for entrepreneurs, knowing there are resources out there to use, it still takes a lot to get up on your feet, especially for retail-type small businesses.”
After completing its study, Team Four Score handed over its report of findings to Evan Zislis, a local business consultant who founded Bonedale Business Academy and also handles community engagement for The Aspen Institute’s Aspen Community Programs. He also launched and directs the Hurst Community Initiative, which aims to link together the communities in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys through civic engagement.
Team Four Score was tasked with, according to Zisilis, conducting a “regional needs assessment … of being self-employed, of being an entrepreneur working out of your kitchen or living room and is this a viable mechanism for coming economic recovery, for coming out of this COVID recession.”
“The Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado was hit particularly hard due to its reliance on tourism,” the report said. “The once-bustling streets of Aspen and Snowmass resembled that of a ghost town. Store fronts, shops and boutiques were shuttered. Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, the third-busiest airport in the state of Colorado, sat vacant of aircraft and passengers. The world-famous ski resorts of Aspen were empty and bare, leaving an eerie and post-apocalyptic feel. When the tourists stopped coming, the workers that relied on them were left jobless and without income. What were these workers to do? That is the question that Team Four Score set out to answer.”
They interviewed local entrepreneurs including Brion After, owner of Independence Run & Hike, a running and hiking apparel and shoe store, in Carbondale; Ami Maes, owner of Handmakery: A children’s Art Studio, in Carbondale; Charlie Chacos, co-owner of Bonfire Coffee and the Village Smithy restaurant, both in Carbondale; and Richard Rosenfeld, owner of Basalt-based Two Leaves & A Bud tea company.
The owners noted the long hours that running and owning a business demands, the importance of building start-up capital before opening a business, having a good location for a brick-and-mortar business, creating the right workplace team and the stress that comes with not having the cushion of working for another employer.
“Finally, all the interviewees admonished us that while entrepreneurship can be an exciting endeavor to be sure, they also all experienced an anxiety that came along with abandoning a job with benefits, health care and other perks, and say that the trade off of stability for potential — but not guaranteed — economic independence can be daunting,” the report said. “And furthermore, they all reiterated that creating a new business, while continuing to work at a current job may be necessary, but will definitely be exhausting. Brion, Ami, Richard and Charlie all said that while they’re glad they started their own businesses, they’d advise a would-be entrepreneur to take time to weigh the pros and cons of such a momentous change.”
Rosenfeld also emphasized “that entrepreneurship should not be about generating profit and/or addressing unemployment, but instead that the entrepreneur should set out to solve problems in their industry, and possibly make money in the process,” the report said.