ASPEN - Aspen's cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and one need only to look at local prices for free-market rental housing, gasoline, food, clothing and common household items for the evidence.
SalaryExpert.com, which compiles and analyzes cost-of-living data for job seekers, estimates that someone living and working in Aspen on a $50,000 salary would need only about $40,000 to maintain the same lifestyle in Tucson, Ariz.; Columbus, Ohio; and Tallahassee, Fla., or Indianapolis.
Because it's hard to make it in the upper Roaring Fork Valley on a laborer's wage, some local businesses over the years have offered a locals discount in one form or another. This has ranged from a standard 10 percent (or greater) discount on food and drinks in a few local restaurants and bars to other types of specials designed to attract locals, such as the prix-fixe menus that several local dining establishments provide during the spring and fall shoulder seasons, when tourists are scarce and businesses need locals to fill in the gap.
However, one Aspen watering hole with a restaurant operation that has catered to locals over the past few years - the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome - recently decided to do away with its generous locals discount. The decision might be temporary, said Tony DiLucia, general manager of the historic hotel, as he searches for some other way of offering locals a deal.
For many years, while under the management of RockResorts, a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, the J-Bar provided special identification cards for locals that guaranteed a 20 percent discount on a local patron's bill.
In late 2011, though, RockResorts was replaced by Auberge Resorts, and soon after, DiLucia returned to the Jerome, which he formerly managed. Sometime last summer, before the hotel was closed in mid-August to accommodate a four-month renovation project, the "official" locals discount was shelved.
The hotel reopened in mid-December with happy hour and daily specials on drinks and food for visitors and locals alike.
"The locals discount card was something that RockResorts started after they took over management in 2007," DiLucia explained. "I'm trying to re-evaluate it, to figure out how to balance it out. When I was here before (2007), we had a punch card for sandwiches - buy so many sandwiches, you get one free. Then after I left, RockResorts came up with the 20 percent discount."
DiLucia pointed out that the hotel and the J-Bar reopened a mere eight weeks ago. The massive remodeling effort in the fall was completed in mid-December.
"We've just had so much going on since we reopened," he said.
DiLucia said even though the locals discount was scrapped, he made adjustments to the J-Bar's menu and drink prices with area residents in mind.
"We tried to adjust the prices down," he said. "When I came back to the Jerome and saw the prices in the J-Bar, I lowered everything across the board. If you had loaded up a burger, it was $24. And now it's back on the menu at $12. I remember thinking through it and saying, 'I'd rather just get rid of these ridiculous prices.'"
DiLucia said there was never any intent to upset the spending habits of locals.
"Everyone knows how I am about locals," he said. "My idea was, lower the food and drink prices, get the burger right, and that's what I did. That was about a year ago. And we're still working on it."
He said only a few people have complained about the loss of the locals discount.
"I'm trying to come up with something else," DiLucia said. "But I have a whole new staff, and we're trying to figure it out and figure out what people want. Only a couple of regular customers have said anything about it, and they never said anything again."
Many local businesses offer some version of a locals discount. (This article does not purport to provide an all-inclusive list of businesses that supply discounts to locals.)
For example, some quick-lunch places like Taster's Pizza and the Grateful Deli supply customers with a punch card. Eat a certain number of sandwiches or pizza slices, and you get one free. This policy favors locals in that visitors aren't likely to rack up enough meals during their stays in order to win the freebie.
Pacifica restaurant has a "locals burger and a beer" special on its apres menu. Zane's Tavern has a similar daily deal.
For many years, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass offered a 10 percent discount to locals who visited his diner. This year, the diner, which is upstairs in the same East Cooper Avenue building as the retail operation that carries his nickname, is being leased out to an outside operator.
Bo Weinglass, Boogie's son, said people sometimes ask for a locals discount in the downstairs retail area of the building, but he rarely approves it.
"We don't do it downstairs, really," he said. "We would have 100 people a day coming in and saying, 'Can I get a locals discount?' with like a Brazilian accent."
Erik Klanderud, director of member services for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said various retailers and restaurants around town might offer a locals discount of some sort.
But it's not organized in the way the Jerome used to offer it, such as in the form of a special card.
Many businesses don't exactly advertise the locals discount, Klanderud said. If a resident doesn't ask for one, it's highly likely he or she won't get it.
"The only two that come to my mind are the Conoco station in the Airport Business Center and the Locals Corner on Main Street," Klanderud said. "They offer some type of locals discount on gas. They actively promote it."
If it's a widespread practice in Aspen, Klanderud said he doesn't know about it.
"I don't ever look for it," he said. "I think it's mainly a word-of-mouth thing."