Ever since the for-sale sign went up in front of Explore, people in town have talked about how to save it. The $6.5 million listing price for the 1880s brown-and-white Victorian on Main Street that houses Aspen’s last bookstore is daunting, yet the small and splendid rooms stuffed with classic fiction and nonfiction make people want to try.
Explore’s original owner, Katharine Thalberg, was the daughter of actress Norma Shearer and producer Irving Thalberg. When she moved the bookstore, which she opened on East Hopkins Avenue in 1975, to its Main Street location three years later, she established a refuge and intellectual gathering place. Explore’s current owners, Cheryl and Sam Wyly, have faithfully stewarded and expanded Thalberg’s vision for the past seven years, but they put the building up for sale in June.
Bill Stirling, a current realtor and former Aspen mayor who was Thalberg’s husband when she died in 2006, is leading the charge to keep Explore alive. His Save Explore Committee has already rallied 350 full-time valley residents, visitors, and second-home owners who, he says, “agree that Explore is an integral part of Aspen’s life and want to be part of what needs to be done to preserve it.” Stirling hopes the group represents the beginning of a larger crowd-funding effort. The goal is to raise $200,000 to $300,000 for an operating fund that would provide Explore’s next owner a financial cushion against losses from the bookstore. The $6 million or so a buyer would spend for the real estate seems a fairly safe investment.
“We’ve had a lot of interest—and most are interested in preserving the bookstore,” says the building’s listing agent, Karen Setterfield. And Stirling points out that even as independent bookstores become scarcer, all is not bleak. Three years ago, author Ann Patchett started a bookstore in Nashville, and last year author James Patterson pledged $1 million to help bookstores.
Crowd-funding efforts for bookstores elsewhere have been successful, and if anyplace would be willing to view financing a bookstore’s losses as a form of philanthropy, it would be Aspen. Or so local bibliophiles hope.