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Big boxes symbolize dawning of new era

Don Rogers

The “Vail Valley” is not becoming a suburb. It’s been one for a good decade. The grand swale of the population is no longer mountain folk, but people who complain loudly about authorities shooting a dog for the cardinal sin of trapping an elk cow in the snow, who prize their lush and water-hogging lawns over the community’s need to conserve, who drive SUVs that seldom if ever taste dirt washboard, who talk a fair game about nature’s romance but really do miss the conveniences of the corner strip mall.

These aren’t “bad” people, either, all mocking aside. My entire extended family and my wife’s extended family are born-and-bred suburbanites, just like most folks in the United States ever since Levittown sprung that first batch of lookalike bungalows on Long Island after World War II. We’re products of the suburbs, too.

These are not soulless, spiritually bereft places, as the caricature would have it. Stepford wives live in the gated places, a whole different animal from suburbia, where there’s absolutely no notion of trophies for much other than the host of little leagues for every sport, and every dad a coach.



In the suburbs, kids, lawns, education and TV are the stuff. Martha Stewart and ESPN rule. The women brag about shopping deals. The men stay heads up for that big entrepreneurial strike. Web page designing is still big. People like me leave.

I suspect the folks who really, really hate the thought of big box stores in our High Country nook are much like me. Thought you escaped, eh? Well, the sad thing is you’ll shop there, too. These stores exist because there’s a market for them.



I think The Home Depot might struggle more than its overseers believe; the store might be a skoosh ahead of the population curve to support it. A bigger and better Wal-Mart looks like gold, though. Build it and oh, they’ll come. Not much question there.

As the symbols they inevitably must be, I don’t like “em much, either. But having lived in a mountain community or two, I haven’t mistaken greater Vail for such. It will be awhile yet before the county’s population could fill, say, Invesco Field, but we’ve come a long way from the Gashouse and a bunch of fields, too. And there have been benefits, plenty of them, in the quality of life sphere. The New York Philharmonic doesn’t play Paonia, after all; Broncos players don’t have knee surgery in Medicine Bow.

The Vail Valley, if its cards play out right, can be that happy nexus of High Country roost for people who have jobs and the blessings of communities with just enough size to include quality health care, higher educational opportunity and, yes, convenient shopping in addition to those ever more “world-class” amenities of the resorts.



At “build-out,” though, the county will hardly equate with LA or Denver or Grand Junction. At build-out, the wildland will still be only a few minutes away. The human population of greater Vail will remain decidedly small town. (And once the building is largely done, the population is likely to sink, absent another economic engine to take construction’s place.)

This all may be too much for you. That cozy ski community, which uprooted the ranching community that preceded it, is evolving to something else, too. That’s what really makes the dawning of the big box era up here so disturbing. Then again, the West has always been about change.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com


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