BASALT - Whole Foods Market provided the sales surge that many civic and business leaders expected in Basalt, at least for the first couple of weeks after it opened.
The town of Basalt's most recent sales tax report shows sales in the retail food category - which includes the town's three grocery stores - soared 39 percent in August. Whole Foods Market Roaring Fork opened Aug. 15 and was consistently busy throughout the rest of the month.
The town's 3 percent sales tax raised $151,399 from retail food sales in August. That far exceeds the total for the same month in any of the prior four years - including 2008, before the recession hit hard in the Roaring Fork Valley. In August 2011, retail food sales produced $108,854 in revenue. In 2008, the amount was $126,778.
The 3 percent sales tax rate indicates Basalt's three grocery stores and all other outlets for retail food combined for slightly more than $5 million in sales in August.
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the sales increase of 39 percent exceeded her expectations of Whole Foods' impact. August was a "honeymoon month," when Whole Foods sparked a lot of interest from shoppers, she said.
The town's next sales tax report, due in late November, will reflect sales for September and the first full calendar month of operation for Whole Foods. That will be a "better barometer" of Whole Foods' effect on Basalt business, Whitsitt said.
Heather Smith, president and CEO of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, said the sales tax report for August reflected what chamber officials generally expected because of Whole Foods opening.
"I'm excited to see the September and October numbers as they'll more accurately reflect a true month in offseason," Smith said.
Whole Foods doesn't discuss financial information.
"I think we're really pleased with the community's response," said Amy Kasper, community relations and marketing director for Whole Foods Market Roaring Fork. She said that reflected both the number of shoppers and response to community events sponsored by the store.
Basalt's sales tax reports don't list sales amounts by individual businesses. Therefore, it's impossible to know if Whole Foods cannibalized business from City Market and Clark's Market or if it attracted mostly new shoppers to the town.
It is possible that Basalt restaurants might have taken a hit in August from Whole Foods, which has a popular prepared-foods section. Sales by restaurants with bars were down nearly 29 percent in August compared with the same month a year before. Restaurants without bars saw their sales fall about 4 percent.
Smith said she believes Whole Foods has already had a positive impact on business at Willits Town Center, where the grocery store is located, and on Basalt as a whole.
"We have seen more visitors to the area as well as have had more inquiries into business opportunities throughout Basalt since they opened, and they are a great community supporter," she said.
Basalt's town government took a conservative approach on sales tax revenue growth in 2013. Finance Director Judi Tippetts urged the council to budget only a 3 percent increase, reasoning that it would be easier to adjust if sales were greater than expected than it would be if revenues didn't materialize.
Thanks to the Whole Foods surge, the town's overall sales tax revenues for August were up 16 percent.
For Basalt's fiscal year to date, sales tax collections are up 6 percent. The fiscal year started in December. The town has collected $2,535,066 so far compared with $2,414,261 last year. In contrast, the town collected $2,901,567 over the same period in 2008.