Down on the Corner
Aspen's most beloved summer sidewalk is back — and it's even better than before.
Story by MICHAEL MIRACLE
WHAT'S THE SUREST SIGN that a street corner is adored? When people choose to hang out there despite the fact that the business serving it has been closed for months. That exact scenario occurred for the entirety of last summer at the corner of Galena and Hopkins, in front of the space that Zele Cafe had occupied for nearly 15 years.
Not only was ZeIe closed, but the fire station next to it was fenced off and under construction-not exactly a come-hither facade. Yet handfuls of folks gathered, weekend after weekend, in a few chairs placed out front by some kind soul.
Even absent an anchor business, the corner's summer appeal is clear: It faces south, with views of Aspen Mountain; it sits across the street from the Saturday farmers' market; and its extra-broad sidewalk can accommodate dozens of sun-seeking loungers. Those are three considerable assets, and visitors this summer will notice that the corner has welcomed a trio of additional ones: a cafe that's a marked improvement over Zele, a $3 million thrift store and a hulking new fire station complete with a fire museum.
Since Peach's Corner Cafe filled the empty Zele spot in the spring, its proprietors, Lisa Haisfield and David Roth, have been stunned by the community's sense of ownership of the space. "I've heard, 'I was the mayor of Zele: from 15 people," says Haisfield. "Again and again, I hear, 'This was my place,' and, 'I'm home!' from people who come in. We didn't expect that, but we've learned this isn't our corner, it's town's corner."
Peach's has attempted to bring that sense of community to the menu. To create the cafe's breakfast and lunch offerings. Haisfield and Roth buy from almost 20 local vendors. The pastry case alone sees deliveries every morning from eight different
valley bakers. Haisfield and Roth have tried to be price conscious,too: Through "portion control," says Haisfield, they manage to offer a $9 lunch special every day. Next door, there's another reason to linger: an impressive selection of used books. The literary discoveries to be found at The Thrift Shop of Aspen stand as testament to town's romance with books. Plus, if the air on Peach's patio is too chilly for your morning chapter of DeLillo, you can grab a secondhand flannel or fleece for a couple of bucks at the six-decadesold institution, which moved into its swank (for a thrift store, anyway) new digs in December.
Further down the way is the Aspen Fire Museum, part of the new fire station that consumes most of the block on Hopkins. Through artwork, artifacts and interpretive displays, the museum pays tribute to Aspen's firefighting past, which dates back to 1880. One of the artifacts-the fire bell that was forged in 1896 and that served as town's primary alarm for many years sits permanently on display out front, right alongside all of the once-and-future mayors of Peach's Corner Cafe.