For over three decades, Blooming Birds owner Patti Patterson has been hocking the kind of shoes that Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City was talking about when she said “I like my money where I can see it … hanging in my closet.” Let’s put it this way: Blooming Birds is the only store in Aspen that carries Monolo Blahnik.
This year Blooming Birds celebrates its 35th anniversary. Those are some major bragging rights in a town where retail stores turnover as fast as drink orders at après ski. For Patterson, staying competitive means treating your staff like family (most of her employees have been with her for years, if not decades); offering the kind of personal service that simply doesn’t exist anymore; buying shoes that no one else carries and making sure she’s an exclusive retailer (See: Monolo Blahnik). She has an eye for beautifully made exquisite shoes from designers that are hard to find (Salpy, Freelance, Robert Clergerie, Digidio, Aquazarra and many more) which is only one of the reasons her customers are as loyal as she is. She has no website, no social media accounts and no computers in the store—she still uses the same cash box she did 30 years ago.
Even though corporate retailers have taken over downtown Aspen and it seems like everyone is carrying luxury shoes, her business continues to thrive with a loyal following (including a roster of celebrities Patti refuses to name).
You might say Patti is one rare bird.
Tell me how you got into the business 35 years ago. Why shoes? Was it always luxury designers?
When I first moved here from New York you really couldn’t find any shoes. You could only buy hiking boots or Sorels. One day it just came to me. I went to fashion school and my dream was to own a store, but everyone thought I was crazy. You have to remember, the streets were still dirt in the 80s, and it was way more casual back then. Still, there were lots of people who wanted nice shoes instead of the clunkers they were wearing.
How did you come up with the name?
I was sitting in the movies watching “Electric Horseman” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It was that scene where they’re crossing the rocks in Utah and he says, “Of course I would have to get stuck with a woman from Blooming Birds,” but what he meant was Bloomingdales. It just stuck.
What was Aspen like when you first opened and how has the retail climate changed?
It was really different then. The times were different. It was way more laid back. You could put out a sign that said “I’m out powder skiing” or “Out to lunch” but you can’t do that anymore. When the big designers came in, that was truly the end of the mom and pop shops. I have to be a lot more serious about business now than I was then.
So how do you survive?
We treat everybody like friends and we welcome them. We try to make them feel comfortable. We still have a lot of the same clients from the beginning. It’s been great.
It seems like you’ve also kept a lot of the same employees for long periods of time in a town that can be so transient and seasonal. How do you do it?
I have been so lucky. Ellen who is basically retired now has worked for 30 years on and off. Judy was with me for 16 years and just retired. Jeannie has come and gone for 30. Mindy has been there 8 or 9 years. The only new employee I have is Chaz. They key is I’ll never ask them to do something that I won’t do. We’re friends. We go out together. We all like each other.
What’s the key to surviving in Aspen’s ever-changing retail climate?
I wish I had the secret. Just having great customers that are loyal and continue to shop with us. It’s all a matter of providing really good service. We also realized you can’t be only high end if you want local business. I think a lot of locals are afraid to come in, but we try run the gamut from lower price to high price. We carry Sorels and Uggs, for example.
Who is your favorite designer?
That’s really hard to say. I always loved the beauty of Blahnik. I myself wear funky shoes. Now we carry everything from high heel Blahniks to sneakers. We’re always on the lookout for small designers no one else carries like Salpy, Freelance, Robert Clergerie, Digidio, Aquazarra. We have so many. I try to get exclusives with most the lines I carry.
What’s the key to finding the perfect pair of shoes?
Something that makes you happy, and makes you tingle. You want to feel like you can’t wait to wear them.
What’s the most money you’ve ever seen someone spend in one shot?
I think it was about $25,000.
Blooming Birds, 471 E. Hopkins Ave, (970) 925-2241