Madeleine Osberger/Aspen Journalism
SNOWMASS VILLAGE — Forgive Tom Clark Jr. if he was more than a little surprised at the public uproar over his family’s grocery store replacing the beloved, and also family-owned, Village Market at the Snowmass Center.
“We just didn’t anticipate the controversy. It was surprising because this is our home. I live in Snowmass Village, grew up in this valley and went to school in Aspen,” said Clark, a second-generation grocery store operator.
Launched in downtown Aspen in 1978, Clark’s Market operates stores across the Western Slope, including Telluride and Battlement Mesa, and a pair of stores in Blanding, Utah, one of which is attached to a small bowling alley.
But the entry into Snowmass Village is a more personal venture for Clark and one where he knows he’ll have to prove himself in order to overcome the negativity that ensued through the messy changeover.
“This is going to be our flagship store,” he said this week. “We’re making this as great as we can.”
Combining the space of the old Village Market with next-door neighbor Sundance Liquor & Gifts will give Clark’s Market nearly double the floor space of its predecessor. (Sundance is moving within the Snowmass Center to the former Aspen Sports outlet space at month’s end.)
Now under construction by contractor John Olsen’s crew, the new market is expected to open in mid-July.
“We’re basically doubling the size of the retail floor (by about 4,000 square-feet), including putting in a shelving that holds 15 percent more product,” he said.
If architectural renderings are any indication, Clark’s Market Snowmass will have a woodsy mountain feel, attractive lighting and signs, and a refrigeration system that Clark claims uses half the energy of standard coolers.
While the full-service grocery is under construction, Snowmass Villagers may buy the basics at a 1,000-square-foot mini-mart in Base Village that also operates under the Clark’s Market flag. In additional to baking essentials and paper products, the store packs a surprising amount of fresh food, sushi, wraps and salads into the space.
Business was steady during the early evening hours one day this week as Humberto Sandoval, who lives within a good tomato’s throw from Base Village, stocked up on essentials.
“I’m just buying the basic stuff, including chips,” Sandoval said.
He’s a regular customer but is looking forward to the opening of the main grocery in the Snowmass Center.
“The new store will be great, then we don’t have to go all the way to Aspen for things,” Sandoval said.
One item attracting customers to the Base Village store is a machine that offers shakes and smoothies that are mixed on the spot. “Mmmm … I like the cookies and cream,” Sandoval allowed. As if on cue, local Jenah Fuechsel sauntered over to the machine to consider what flavor of smoothie sounded best on this warm evening.
Ironically, it was mention of the smoothie machine that set off a raft of criticism about Clark’s entry into the local market by Snowmass Village Town Councilman Chris Jacobson. A public meeting last month meant to introduce Tom Clark Jr. to elected officials and town staff was short on discussion about operational plans and heavy on fluff, including chatter about the smoothie machine, Jacobson said.
The councilman said someone should have said, “Your store in Aspen is phenomenally overpriced. Is that what you plan to do here?”
Tom Clark Jr. bristled when told of the remark, replying, “We are bringing prices right in line with our Aspen store, which is a significant price difference from what was here (in Snowmass Village) before.”
Familiarity and fallout
Asked if Clark’s Market Snowmass would offer specials similar to Village Market, such as dropping prices on day-old meat, he said, “We have specials all the time as you’ll see in our weekly ad.” Indeed, the store offers daily bargains on items ranging from cold cuts and milk to “Five-buck chuck.”
But will it be enough to satisfy a customer base loyal to that “other” family-owned business, which is based in Glenwood Springs?
Clark thinks the public is already recognizing that the newest store in his chain will be something special. Based on feedback from community meetings, Clark said, “I had a lot of people say they were concerned but later they said they get it.”
At the new store’s entrance will be an espresso machine and a display area for featured items. The aforementioned sushi will be made on site, and a new sandwich case will display an array of cheeses. One holdover from Village Market will be the donuts.
“That was brought up by the public,” Clark laughed. “We’ll have a fantastic donut program there.”
Clark said “people will also see familiar faces,” including produce manager Jerry Pazar and Teresa Kelly, as well as several cashiers.
Several of the Village Market managers opted to stay with their longtime employer, however, even if it meant relocating. Meat department manager Glenn Drummond as well as store managers Debbie Miller and Greg Miller are now working at the Edwards, Colo., store while Bob Gilmore has moved to Moab, said an employee who asked not to be named.
“We’ve also had to downsize the office in Glenwood. We’re still coping with the fallout” of losing the Snowmass Village store, the employee said.
Back in Snowmass Village, growth and expansion remain top-of-mind for Tom Clark Jr. in this, his latest venture. If the store catches on like Clark believes it will, can the Snowmass Center parking lot handle additional demand?
According to maps provided by Related Colorado, owner of the Snowmass Center, there are currently 190 total parking spaces available in the lot for shared for retail and office needs. And, Clark said, the company is also offering home delivery of groceries to Snowmass Village residents.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism’s Government Desk collaborated with the Aspen Daily News on this story. The News ran a version of this story on XXXX, May XX, 2014.