Do you know where we can grab something to eat?

First things first – given I have a dog, I’m not a big fan of fireworks. But that 10:45 a.m. military jet flyover of Crested Butte to warm people up for the Fourth of July parade — that was loud but great!

Now back to the big picture… Results of last winter’s survey of passengers flying out of the Gunnison airport indicate that one of the top three major critiques people expressed about the area was the lack of dining options in the North Valley. That should not be a surprise to anyone living here the last few seasons. 

A couple of years ago there was a major shift in restaurant and restaurant space ownership. Given a variety of factors, many of the once vibrant core business district spaces went dark. They became dead zones and, for a resort community, there is probably not much worse than dead zones. Walking Elk Avenue last winter when the vacant spots were dark and the operating restaurants were closed two days a week, it looked bleak. I can’t think of another way to describe it. It was dead. Dead is not a good look for a community known for its funky energy.

Like during the ski season, the restaurants that are open this summer are, again, overwhelmed. Lines of customers are stretching for more than an hour much of the time. The kitchen crew isn’t getting a break. The hosts and servers have trouble catching their breaths. As good as the product is and as robust as the bank account gets for those open eateries, it takes a toll. Patience and mental health are taxed. It really is not ideal for anyone. 

As determined by those airport surveys, the dearth of places to eat and socialize and experience Crested Butte is sticking like the bad aftertaste of soured milk. It is not something those that come here will easily forget. That experience will have a lasting impact on the economics and vitality of the community for more than a season and it brings no joy to those of us living here that like to go out and see familiar faces.

I have said often that I personally enjoy residing in a tourist-based town with active second homeowners. I like the energy and amenities that are available because of the visitors and second homeowners. I understand the stress that comes during the busy times and Lord knows, July is a busy time. Breathe. Without options for people to eat, the stress level will only go up. And from what I’ve heard, the phone is ringing off the hook (does that happen anymore?) for every personal chef in a 40-mile radius, but most are already pretty dang busy in the heart of summer.

While most of the restaurant spaces that were dark last winter are now filled with the sound of jackhammers and nail guns, that too will leave an impression. Those enjoying a burrito in CB’s outside seating really didn’t come here to savor the experience of listening to trees being cut down (which is tragic, by the way, and makes me sad to even mention) or the breaking up of concrete. That’s not something easily forgotten while on vacation.

I fret over what will come from the destruction-reconstruction cycle. It is good that the primary property owners on Elk Avenue have the financial means to shore up fading historical buildings. I anticipate that given the investments needed to make old buildings new, it will be nearly impossible for young entrepreneurs with an interesting idea for a restaurant to get in. Perhaps the affluent landlords will work a deal that subsidizes rent. Perhaps their investment groups will come up with creative concepts and bring in celebrity chefs to make those concepts a reality. There is little doubt the buildings will be shiny and clean and modern and probably more reflective of new urbanism in Denver or Dallas than 1990s or 2000s Crested Butte. Upgrading space while retaining CB quirkiness is a tough tightrope to walk since Crested Butte is known more for quirky charm than high-priced wine lists. I have no idea what it will mean for the cost of a restaurant meal in CB anymore, but I doubt the days of the local $15 steak special are returning.

Rumor is that major Elk Ave. restaurant space owner Mark Walter is in town and a couple people on the Fourth told me that they know Mark and he doesn’t want to talk to me because he’s afraid I will “rip” him. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll probably continue to “rib” him in my opinion pieces for not sharing his ideas with the community through the community newspaper but hearing that concern I wondered how he made multiple billions of dollars if he is afraid of…me. 

I’ve talked to most of the “big players” in the valley and they haven’t complained about how they were portrayed in any news story. I don’t edit what people say in the newspaper. They can communicate whatever they want, and to be clear I don’t think anyone “has to talk to me” but using the small town paper to communicate is the right thing to do. This community wants (and I think deserves) to know what Mark’s overall idea is and what he wants to do with the place. Since he owns so much property on Elk Avenue, he has an influence on all of us that are living here. I promise to not alter his words or “rip“ him. He can still call me at 349-0500 extension 109. I’m off to my son’s wedding this weekend but will be back Monday. I’m sure he has people that have my cell. 

Look, it is what it is. It is good to try to give the benefit of the doubt to those who choose to spend their money to try and do something that enhances the place. I do not automatically ruffle at change but look forward to seeing what new things Crested Butte will come up with while not throwing away its core soul…whatever that means. We are again in the midst of major changes and if nothing else, those long lines of people waiting to get a bite to eat or a cool drink to share with friends probably won’t be as long next year.

A quick aside related to the winter airline passenger survey: The number one criticism of the place was that getting to Crested Butte was not easy. I’m guessing a lot of the people who live here or who have figured out how to experience this place despite the barriers that come with getting to the end of the road, probably agree…it is not easy to get to…and that is just fine. It is part of the charm. Here’s hoping the unique charm of the place doesn’t disappear with the “upgrades” coming to Elk Avenue.

—Mark Reaman

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