When I was a kid, Basalt and El Jebel were two completely different towns, and you had to go to Aspen or Glenwood for any kind of shopping; seasonal or otherwise. In fact, El Jebel was barely a town, it was more of a roadside stop, complete with an old guy sleeping in a chair in front of the gas station and tumbleweeds slowly making their way down the valley… If you haven’t lived in the Roaring Fork valley for long you may not realize it yet, but everything rolls downvalley: the river, the arts/culture, the serious lack of a workforce due to the ridiculous cost of housing.
Today, the development sprawl that is Willits almost reaches from one town to the next, but not much of the housing is ‘affordable.’ And when you think about it, someone who lives in Newcastle or Silt (where they still actually have affordable housing) won’t cut her commute time to work in Willits because it will cost her $X per hour. Mid-valley wages do not compare with Aspen, and so, here we are, in a destination community predicament as old as time… ok, maybe not time, but as long as the modern-day ski bum can remember. I know what you’re thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” Everyone knows that we have a severe employee shortage, the question is how to solve it when property values keep climbing like a billionaire knocking K2 off his bucket-list.
One way to help is to play Santa and shop locally this holiday season. Instead of biting your lip and letting your eyes roll back as you click away on Amazon, why not get creative with gifts this year. For instance, think of activities to do together with your friends and family; various time-honored traditions like sitting side-by-side, silently staring straight ahead at a major motion picture. Or the peace and quiet of a cold sunny day as your kids snow-shoe ahead and disappear over the hill… My sisters and I make time for Spa Day together every chance we get, even if it just means soaking our feet in the creek while wearing mud masks and sipping on Pa’s ‘shine— just kidding! (Our dad was a marine, and so he pretty much just sticks to beer.) Memories make everlasting gifts, while plastic wrapped in plastic just gets left behind under the bed.
Plus, whether hiking, biking, skiing, or just hanging out at the local pub, you never know who you’ll meet in the Roaring Fork valley, and the fact that we’ve been able to hold on to that for decades is sheer magic. Sure, we have housing issues, and traffic problems, and a lack of underwear stores, but we still have old guys growing bananas in the hills, and native species, and access to the wild. That’s worth more than tightey-whiteys any day, and it’s worth protecting. By shopping locally instead of online, we can support our local businesses with our spending and they, in turn, can offer higher wages to their employees.
But if you do end up ordering gifts online, please, let your conscience hold the credit card. In this world, money talks and everything else can shut up and wait a minute. By avoiding certain brands, we can make a statement which may even ripple out to affect change in the world. Specifically, please don’t purchase items from L Brands: The Limited, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, etc. The owner of L Brands, Mr. Wexner, has been buying and swapping land in the area for years, and who can blame him? This area has immense beauty, inside and out. But part of what makes it so beautiful is the unsaid agreement to live and let live. That laissez faire attitude that allows for all kinds of wildlife to thrive— from the forest to the bar stool. By fencing off wild game’s access to water, gating and hanging No Trespass signs on public domain, and suing third generation ditch-right owners, Wexner has shown his true naughty-not-nice colors. So, instead of stuffing the stockings with underwear made in China, let’s all treat our loved ones to dinner and a show of stars under the bright winter night sky. Happy Festivus!