Little Annie’s — a longtime Aspen down-home restaurant popular with locals and visitors alike — has been closed by the state Department of Revenue over its alleged failure to pay sales taxes.
The chalkboard outside the 41-year-old East Hyman Avenue institution usually lists daily lunch specials. On Monday it promoted a ravioli-and-salad combo for $10.95. On Tuesday at lunchtime, a note was scrawled on the blackboard, simply stating, “Little Annie’s will be closed today. We love you all. The crew.”
Inside the front door, the state fixed a large poster against the window that boldly says, in large red letters, “SEIZED.” A letter next to the poster, carrying Friday’s date and attributed to Karen Springer, tax-compliance agent for the state Revenue Department, alleges that Annie’s failed to pay state sales taxes from April to August amounting to $44,551.
Also on Tuesday, employees of the city of Aspen’s Finance Department said Little Annie’s failed to pay city sales taxes covering part of July and the entire month of August. However, action against the restaurant had yet to be initiated.
Near the start of Tuesday night’s Aspen City Council meeting, Mayor Steve Skadron brought up the closure.
“That’s quite unfortunate, but we’re hopeful that from disappointment something good will come, and maybe we’ll have a new and better Little Annie’s in the future,” he said. “So, no burgers tonight.”
Before the meeting, Skadron lamented the loss, noting that many years ago, Little Annie’s was his marketing client and he handled some design work on the restaurant’s menu. He remembered when the restaurant’s trademark shot-and-a-beer special was $1; most recently, the combo cost patrons $4.00.
Attempts by The Aspen Times to reach restaurant employees Tuesday were unsuccessful. The eatery employs more than 30 full- and part-time workers.
Little Annie’s already was expected to close for the winter because of a planned remodel of the historic building at 517 E. Hyman Ave. where it is housed.
But the business’s future was in doubt — the building owners, Aspen Core Ventures LLC, a development group represented by Nikos Hecht — have been negotiating with other Aspen restaurant operators to take over the space next summer, according to local real estate sources familiar with the situation.
In early 2012, the Aspen City Council worked to save the structure housing Little Annie’s, along with the building next to it designed by architect Tom Benton, from potential demolition. Council members voted in favor of various concessions tied to another nearby Aspen Core Ventures project, a three-story building with a penthouse. That building is under construction at the corner of East Hyman Avenue and South Hunter Street.
Skadron pointed out that although he voted in favor of Aspen Core Ventures’ overall development plan for the three properties, he spoke against the stipulation that required the Little Annie’s building to remain an affordable restaurant in perpetuity. He said the marketplace should decide what type of commercial enterprise a building houses.
“It was a huge deal and that condition was just one (component),” Skadron said. “It’s always sad when we lose a local institution. It would be my hope that the building owner would find another operator to return the building to its former glory. In the long run, this could turn out to be a good thing.”