Merchants, town officials dispute entertainment rights
BRECKENRIDGE – Steve Lapinsohn calls it animation.
A neighbor calls it noise.
Town officials call it advertising.
And therein lies the limbo in which Lapinsohn found himself in after he hired a guitarist to perform outside his shop during his annual clearance sale last weekend during Oktoberfest.
Knowing that the town council is in the midst of drafting an ordinance addressing entertainment in the historic district, Lapinsohn got written permission from the town allowing him to hire the guitarist. But someone – Lapinsohn doesn’t know who, for sure – called the police, who found another provision in the town code outlawing entertainment, even if it’s on private property.
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” Lapinsohn said. “I sat down with staff and asked, “Can I do this? Can I do this?’ It was one guitar player, a little amplifier and a prize giveaway. Every store around me did well. It wasn’t just good for me; it was good for everybody.”
Town council members agreed Tuesday to let the guitarist play outside the shop again this weekend because Lapinsohn has already contracted with the musician to do so. But they said the outdoor performance is illegal. A town ordinance says any displays – be they merchandise, mannequins or musicians – that are featured for the sole purpose of attracting people to individual stores are prohibited.
“If it’s linked to advertising,” said Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen, “it can’t be done.” The council agreed it needs to determine how Lapinsohn’s single guitarist compares with musical and theatrical performances elsewhere in town, including the town-sponsored events at the Blue River Plaza and those put on by East West’s Main Street Station.
Main Street Station was built with animation in mind, said Jack Wolfe, managing partner with East West Partners. He said town officials wanted him to provide space for animation at Main Street Station and that if he is found to be violating the law, the town council probably will have to change the ordinance.
Wolfe doesn’t see how the performances held there differ from Lapinsohn’s – or the town-sponsored musical and theatrical activities held in Blue River Plaza this summer.
Main Street Station sponsored about 35 events this summer, including a Nina Storey concert that attracted about 700 people, the twice-weekly Children’s Theater, small concerts by the Breckenridge Music Institute and National Repertory Orchestra, an acoustic guitar player during the fall arts show and radio remotes.
Entertainers are allowed on the public streets of Aspen, as long as they obtain permits, said Linda Gerdenich, director of community relations for the town. A citizen board called the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission deals with street performers – but like the debate in Breckenridge, the rules surrounding buskering were not easily solved.
Music students perform on street corners, a man donning a funky hat routinely twists balloons into art and a woman strolls the downtown core wearing a sandwich board with advertising printed on it.
“It worked,” Gerdenich said, “until we got to the Popsicle lady.”
The Popsicle lady rode around town selling ice cream from a cooler affixed to her bike. The issue was referred to the commission, which crafted a solution.
“The first scream that came out of people was from people who sell ice cream in shops, because they’re paying rent, and here she is, peddling in the streets,” Gerdenich said. “They decided she could be at the neighborhoods, in the park – anywhere but the commercial core.”
Others said the Popsicle lady was the perfect example of the “messy vitality” Aspen was seeking.
The issue hasn’t been put to sleep yet, primarily because a merchant showed up at the town’s farmers market in a belly dancing outfit. She was promoting an Oriental rug sale, Gerdenich said.
Luring them in
Like the animation in Aspen, the goal of Main Street Station’s music is to attract people to the stores, Wolfe said.
“People are attracted to music,” he said. “They’ll walk farther; they’ll cross Park Avenue. Music helps people get over that. I don’t see what the issue is. They’re drawing a line I can’t see.”
The issue, however, is whether such entertainment qualifies as advertising.
“Our strategy for the first year is to get them to see it,” Wolfe said. “We spent two years driving people away with construction. This winter, we’d like to do some kind of Victorian holiday event. We’re working to get ice skating back on the Maggie Pond. Is that advertising? I don’t know.
“The indirect benefit is ringing the cash registers,” he continued. “Tell me that the merchants in the 100 block of South Main didn’t have advertising and sales during Oktoberfest. It’s a great event for those people. Is that advertising? People like having several pockets of music around Main Street. I don’t see any difference between activities at Blue River Plaza that benefit all those merchants around there and us having it at Main Street Station. We’re doing it to drive business. The more special events and music we can do, the better we’ll all be.”
Cary Hardin, owner of Hamlet’s Bookshoppe, agrees. She had hoped to host an acoustic guitar player at her grand opening today and, like Lapinsohn, doesn’t want to break the law.
“I hired him to create an ambience,” Hardin said. “I was very specific. I said, “Make sure this appeals to everyone.’ I don’t want to upset anyone. People come here for the experience; this is part of it, that Main Street feel.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext., 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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