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Our History

Katharine Thalberg founded Explore Booksellers in 1975, and she worked there devotedly and continuously for 30 years until her death in 2006.  A former writer and inveterate book lover, Katharine was deeply dedicated to the world of ideas and a fierce defender of the First Amendment. Under her leadership, Explore became known for its expansive, expertly-curated book collection and individualized customer service. Much of what makes Explore Booksellers a valuable resource to the greater Aspen community is a direct result of Katharine Thalberg's vision, intelligence and style.  

Katharine first opened Explore Booksellers in a small Victorian house on E. Hopkins Street, and moved to its current location in 1977.  Explore quickly became a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, where you could run into friends and colleagues and attend talks by notable authors discussing their latest books. Over time, Explore became a cultural landmark and the literary center of the town. In 2006, The Aspen Times noted that a good portion of the people in town consider Explore as “an extension of their own living rooms.”

The writer, Toni Morrison once said, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind, they are its necessity.”  Katharine devoted her life to this necessity. When Katharine was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 2003, she continued her work at Explore until one month before her death on January 6, 2006. Her love for the store and for the world of ideas were inseparable. She will always be remembered as one of the legends in the book business and one of the people who helped shape the culture and community in Aspen.   

In March 2007, Explore was purchased by Sam and Cheryl Wyly, who described their purchase of Explore to the Aspen Daily News as an act of stewardship on behalf of the Aspen community, where they own numerous properties and have given to causes like the Wyly Community Arts Center and the Aspen Animal Shelter. “[Sam] finally decided he should quit just hoping that Explore would continue unchanged, and for his own quality of life, and for the quality of life of the entire community, he would invest the resources to keep it here for everyone.”

In 2015, Explore was purchased by a consortium of groups in The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports non-profit organizations in 30 states committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change. Employees of the organizations have visited Aspen on a December ski trip since 1984 and became fans of the bookstore, so when the store went up for sale, we bought Explore as both a program investment and an extension of our mission.

As Explore Booksellers evolves, we are grateful to our predecessors who helped build Explore into the cultural and intellectual institution it is today, and are proud to continue to make Explore than a bookstore, but a gathering place that embodies the Aspen spirit - where books, ideas and the free-flowing conversation they initiate are part of the environment.