Recognizing Aspen’s need for a contemporary clothing store, Don Fleisher founded Pitkin County Dry Goods in 1969. The store soon became the passion of Don’s brother David, who moved to Aspen from San Francisco and fell in love. As store manager, he hired his future wife Gina Berko (an Aspen local) when she applied for a summer job. Fast forward 50 years, four locations, two daughters, one grandchild, and David and Gina are still proudly operating the business. Catering to a sophisticated ski town that includes international executives and celebrities as well as locals, the store offers an eclectic mix of more than 100 boutique designers; many collections are exclusives and not widely available in the States.
On the occasion of their 50th anniversary, MR chats with store owner David Fleisher and men’s buyer/merchandiser Nathan Harris about how to stay relevant for 50 years.
MR: David, how would you describe your management style?
Fleisher: Organic and free flowing. I believe this is what’s created a culture that allows the salespeople, buyers, and managers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their personal responsibilities. With the right people, this comes together to make the business. As I look back, this management style was something I developed from my one-year stint at a San Francisco knitting factory in the 1960s. I observed their management style and decided that’s how I want to run my business. It was a very 1960’s Northern California approach.
MR: What have been the most important factors in making it to 50?
Fleisher: 1. Putting together a great staff that’s customer-oriented and able to provide a socially fun atmosphere to work and shop in. And 2. Staying open-minded to evolution and reinvention in order to not grow stale as the Aspen market continues to shift. What excites and re-energizes me is finding that next great item or designer to introduce to our customers. I’ve always acted on my gut feelings and I still feel that excitement when I’m over in Europe looking at next season’s collections.
MR: What’s driving sales today?
Nathan Harris: What makes our menswear special is our diverse brand matrix. We’re able to outfit a guy in a printed woven shirt from Dries Van Noten paired with a great pair of jeans and a soft jacket from Boglioli. As far as overall categories, we’re seeing a push in knitwear. From simple merino styles from Paul Smith and Officine Generale to lux cashmere from Massimo Alba and Fioroni. This knitwear trend also shows up in fashion pieces like hoodies from John Elliott and Stone Island. Outerwear has become another best-selling department, specifically Herno. We have an entire wall dedicated to Herno, whereas a few years ago they had a single rack. (Their water-resistant cashmere/silk coat should be in every man’s closet.)
David and I have started spending more time in Europe, not necessarily at tradeshows but seeking out brands organically. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is shop. We’re constantly looking in cities around the world and online for the next emerging brand or designer. With the expansion of online retail, stores can best stay relevant by offering a curated assortment of brands that customers can’t find elsewhere. With more and more stores closing, it’s up to specialty stores to nurture new designers. Customers love to hear the backstory of how we discovered the brand.
MR: What are you most proud of, 50 years later?
Fleisher: I’m most proud of creating a store that’s become an Aspen institution and an extremely meaningful part of our customers’ Aspen experience. I believe we stand out as a unique retail store in a city that’s become synonymous with designer shopping. In today’s landscape, I feel proud to be one of the few remaining family-owned businesses in the country, to not only exist but to maintain relevance. And personally, I feel fortunate to have found a place I love to live. I love the mountains and hiking and biking. To combine that with my career, to attend Aspen’s classical music festival in the summer and enjoy the outdoors while running a thriving business in a challenging resort market is very gratifying. But don’t get me wrong: it comes with its risks and rewards…
One important reward is the relationships we’ve established with our vendors, designers and brands that have developed into lifelong friendships. The same holds true for our friendships with retail colleagues around the country. After all these years, it’s these relationships that make this career so rewarding. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found, in my early 20s, something I love to do that I’m still passionate about 50 years later.
MR: What’s next for PCDG?
Fleisher: Figuring out a way to keep the store vital while continuing to do what we do well: offering exclusive product, customer service, and an overall Aspen experience. We also plan to undergo a remodel to refresh the space so the store can move forward for another 50 years.