Pitkin County Dry Goods: A store for all seasons

Pitkin County Dry Goods brings high fashion to Aspen.

2011 Uptown Downtown AwardsEntrepreneur Don Fleisher moved to Aspen in 1968 and quickly noticed that it lacked a suitable clothing store. It seems he was unimpressed with the town’s actual dry goods outpost, where you could buy rope and bed pillows as well as your Levi’s.

On July 4th, 1969, Pitkin County Dry Goods became the area’s first contemporary clothing store and featured 60s mod fashions inspired by Don’s years spent managing a rock band in L.A. It was popular from the start—but not profitable.

A year later, Don’s brother David Fleisher left his home in San Francisco and came looking for a job. (Don himself never worked in the store, preferring instead to focus on his real estate and nightclub businesses.) Soon after, it became obvious that the store was close to bankruptcy. With no previous business experience, David promised Don and his partner that if they let him take over, he could turn things around and make their money back in five years. “I was overconfident,” Fleisher says. “But I just knew I could put together an eclectic mix that would make for an exciting shopping experience.”

He made good on his promise and is still at the helm after forty years. Fleisher’s wife Gina (whom he hired as a store associate and later fell in love with) is also involved in PCDG’s women’s business.

Retail in a resort town comes with its own unique challenges. Competition from mono-brand flagships is one. Another is transient shoppers. “We can’t focus on a particular customer because we have so many different types of people coming through,” Fleisher says. “I also have to pay close attention to fit, since many of my customers are thicker-thighed skiers, hikers and bikers.”

Denim appeals to the casual crowd at pricepoints from $150 to $200, while leather and shearling outerwear from $1,000 to $3,000 makes up 25 percent of Fleisher’s business. But, he explains, “This is the third time in our history we had to bring our offering way down and then build it back up. Leather is not only cyclical in fashion, but it’s one of the more discretionary wardrobe items.” And though Fleisher himself appreciates fine tailored clothing, “I accepted early on that it doesn’t work in Aspen. For the most part guys don’t want to think about buying clothing because they don’t need it when they come here.”

But PCDG’s Aspen location has its advantages, too. “We do very little advertising because there are only five square blocks of retail. If you’re in town, you’re most likely going to walk by my store.” Fleisher admits that, as a manager, his strength is product and his weakness marketing. “But social media is my next project; I think it can take my business up a notch.”

Fleisher credits his fellow Threadwize members with providing constant inspiration, calling them “a particularly great group, all easy to get along with. Discussing things with them really helps me understand where I stack up and where I need to improve.”
For spring 2012, Fleisher is betting on shorts from Mason’s and Tailor Vintage, slightly distressed chinos and washed knits. “The summer season in Aspen used to be adjunct to winter, but now July/August is my biggest two month period of the year, bolstered by the Aspen Music Festival and the Food & Wine Classic.” He’s also taking a chance on men’s accessories, with plans to expand bracelets, belts and scarves.

As for retirement plans? “I’ve never considered a fallback career,” Fleisher tells us. “I still enjoy my associations in the industry, trying new lines and the self-discovery it affords me. Plus my staff keeps me energized. Even at my age I still have a certain spark.”

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