It’s been sparkling for 15 years, and it hasn’t been easy.
If you’ve walked past the corner of Hunter and East Hopkins in the downtown core, maybe that twinkle has crossed your eye.
Twinkle, literally, is a 400-square-foot children’s retail boutique at 533 E. Hopkins and one of the most comprehensive clothing outlets in Aspen.
What started as a void in the community for high-end, brand-name, gently used children’s clothes blossomed into Aspen’s only boutique outlet dedicated solely to children’s’ clothing, accessories, infant needs, athletic gear and more.
Michelle Weeks couldn’t return to her job at The Little Nell with the birth of her first daughter, Zoe, now 14. Pregnant, she had loads of designer clothes and friends with even more. She wanted a place where she could embrace the joys of motherhood yet still help pay the bills, at least some of them, and in Aspen.
Aspen has changed in 15 years, and so has Weeks. Maybe that’s why she has one of the few woman-owned, local, single-store retail enterprises in the Roaring Fork Valley dedicated to not only clothing, but immediate-need items for high-end tourists.
The original consignment store grew with the addition of trendy and up-and-coming brand products. There was a niche.
After two successful years at a location near the Wheeler Opera House, Weeks was ready for more and bigger.
“I found this great storefront in a high-traffic, walkable street and Steve Marcus rented it to me and became my mentor. He was a wonderful landlord,” she said. Marcus, a legendary Aspen real estate mogul, died two years ago of COViD-19.
“Every time he would come in, I would tell him, I need more space, and he would tell me, you can’t afford more space! However, he would always reiterate to me that no one else was doing what I was doing in Aspen, and that resonated with me.”
Weeks embraced Marcus’ wisdom and loyalty and love for local business, and stayed at her cozy corner location.
“I learned not to compare myself or my store to other outlets. I had to be my own brand and company,” said Weeks.
Twinkle, originally named after Weeks’ favorite childhood song, is almost the antithesis of the store. “The song, it just calms people, there is something about it.”
Calm is not necessarily the vibe upon entering the emporium of color and kid product. Rather, there are over 400 products in a cozy space.
“I haven’t hung anything from the ceiling, yet,” said Weeks.
The shelves and clothing racks are stocked to the brim, with new merchandise in the wings, just waiting to be placed. The plethora of brands, prices, options, is packed in.
Weeks’ hands-on experience with over thousands of tourists has made her an expert in youth retail. It’s obvious.
“I can read a customer within a few questions. It’s my charm,” she said.
Weeks is the ever-present body in the store. She can navigate a stroller in her confined space better than any snowplow with 12-foot snow berms.
She’s done her research to ensure the choicest of children’s lines are scattered throughout the boutique.
And she still carries oodles of consignment items for locals. She knows the brands and what customers, local or visiting, desire.
“Working Aspenites can’t afford a $500 baby dress, but they can certainly search for a $25- relatively new-looking, high-end-brand Easter dress.”
Locals account for 40% of Weeks’ business, and visitors the other 60%.
“I have incredible customers from all over the country,” she said. “Some start coming here on their yearly ski trips. Others will make it a stop every three-summer visit. I have a grandpa who calls for each grandchild’s birthday and updates me on the size, and I ship out the gift.”
The store is grandfathered into the summer Aspen Farmers Market. Each summer, expect an assortment of items on tables across the lawn with everything from retail product to bubbles and dogs. And maybe a cup of lemonade.
“I’ve probably paid over a million dollars in rent to this space,” joked Weeks. “I might as well use every square inch, including the lawn.”
Summers abound with lemonade stands for non-profits. “My daughters have held dozens of lemonade stands. There would be an NBA player that would throw a $300 tip in the jar, and it all went back to local charity. It’s been incredible.” she said.
“We bought a cotton candy machine for this summer. Zoe is turning into me. She wants to be on trend and desirable. She gets it. Customers can log onto our Instagram and recommend non-profits for our sugary Saturdays.”
But it’s not all twinkling lights. “I’m extremely nervous,” said Weeks. “My mentor passed away, and I’m not sure his legacy translates to the current Aspen demands. Who knows if I can negotiate the similar lease and provide both a local and tourist service in such an expensive town? When you see Balmain taking up space on a third level, it says a lot.”
Weeks’ daughter is learning the business and helping her mother when not at school or in sports.
“It’s fun to teach Zoe the business. After all, it was created for her,” Weeks said.
How many little baby booties does Week need to sell to cover rent? A lot.
“It ebbs and flows. Every year I seem to find the ‘it’ trinket or gift or headband that I can sell thousands of dollars of in one Saturday alone. I had this unicorn headband a couple years back,” she said.
Weeks couldn’t even finish her sentence as a grandmother from New Jersey and toddler came in asking if she had a unicorn headband.
“We sold out,” she told the woman. “The company stopped making them during COVID. Give me your number. I’ll find you something similar. I’ll ship it to you.”
That’s Week’s persona, she knows her customers and what they want. It’s what’s kept her in business in one of the most competitive markets over the years.
Amazon and online retailers has sniped at Weeks’ bottom line, but she’s been creative.
“This is a tourist town, and people need instant gear and satisfaction. I offer that. I absolutely have something in this store for every child. On a given weekend in summer, I can sell 100 cowboy boots. I have the sizes and I can fit the foot. I know what to stock, when and who my customers are.”
However, that doesn’t stop Mother Nature from fooling with her plans.
“This year has been slow. The large amount of snow and cold, sunless days. Our usual customers are staying on Durant Street or in their hotels bundled up,” she said. “It’s a bit different and strange.”
“I don’t know what we will do when our existing lease is up with our former landlord in May 2024. As the world has proven, a lot can happen,” she said. “We could be here, or it could be my next adventure.”
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