| AspenTimes.com

Majority in tax survey favors new tax on short-term rentals

Nearly two-thirds of Aspen voters surveyed favor a new tax charged to guests who rent out vacation properties on a short-term basis, according to poll findings released this week.

The Aspen City Council will use the results at its work session Tuesday to help inform its decision on whether to bring an excise tax question to voters in the November elections.

The findings showed 63% of the respondents favored a short-term rental (STR) tax of some kind, and 36% opposed.

The survey was conducted July 18-24 by Frederick Polls of Salt Lake City. Findings also indicated that support for the excise tax dropped when its rates went higher. The majority of the support landed on tax rates of either 9% or 13%; the maximum rate proposed was 20%. The survey results are contained in a memo to City Council in advance of next week’s meeting.

“Yes, voters feel STRs are negatively impacting neighborhoods, the sense of community and the availability and price of housing in Aspen,” according to Frederick Polls’ summary of the results. “They also feel that short-term renters are not paying the full cost of their impact on Aspen services or their fair share compared to other commercial business operations. The vast majority offering a use for new STR money would prefer it go toward more housing for local residents and workers. Also, some see an STR tax as a way to limit or discourage tourism.”

Those opposed to an excise tax on STRs “have strong anti-tax feelings, believe tourism is good/essential for the Aspen economy, don’t trust government to spend new tax money wisely … (or) to amend the land use code and establish the vacation-rental permit fee … or feel that STRs (and their property owners) already contribute a fair and sufficient amount of taxes,” the summary said. “The open-ends suggest there is a great deal of emotion and intensity of feeling on both sides of this issue.”

A 13% tax rate, which if voter approved would take effect Jan. 1, would generate an estimated maximum of $10.7 million in taxes proceeds for the city, according to city documents.

Where those dollars go was also addressed in the survey, with 63% behind affordable housing, 20% for infrastructure and 16% favoring environmental programs.

“A majority of Aspen voters consistently support some form of new STR tax, with a hard core of one-third of voters consistently opposed,” said the summary. “That opposition could climb into the mid-40s if this issue becomes a matter of ‘fairness”, given STR renters already pay the same sales and lodging tax as visitors staying in hotels.”

The debate over short-term rentals — which are stays of no more than 30 days — and their impacts on Aspen intensified in December when the five-member City Council placed a temporary ban on new STRs through Sept. 30. During that time, the council examined ways to contain an industry it says has run amok and depleted the housing inventory, strained services and put traditional lodges at a competitive disadvantage.

The current combined sales-tax rate in the city is 11.3%. Tack on an additional 13% for short-term rentals, and guests would be paying 24.4% in taxes for each overnight.

There were 322 participants in the study — 280 through a text survey and another 42 through telephone interviews.

Here’s a sampling of the feelings expressed by survey respondents concerning taxing guests of short-term rentals.

  • “Houses should be used for people who live here, but, in the case that they are used for short-term rentals, I think money should go back into our community.”
  • “Going to make vacationing in Aspen just that much more expensive for the average person.”
  • “We need reasonable-priced, short-term rentals in Aspen … the hotels are so expensive.”
  • “I own a hotel! Need I say more? Short-term rentals are threatening my business.”
  • “This is private enterprise and brings in more tourist dollars into the local economy with a bigger spend. Why discourage this?”
  • “Because our town is out of control with growth and expansion, all is impacting our infrastructure, roads, water usage, utilities, air pollution, police staffing, sheriff dept., public health, etc.”
  • “Short-term rentals are exacerbating the housing crisis.”
  • “Makes our community more exclusive and expensive and creates greater economic disparity.”
  • “Short-term rentals are changing the fabric of our neighborhoods.”
  • “Good way to create more revenue off of home owners making a profit off of their second homes.”
  • “Government overreach.”
  • “Sounds like a great plan for the wealthy second homeowner; but, as a resident, if I need help defraying the high cost of living here and renting, several times helps pay off my mortgage.”

The City Council took action in June to create a vacation-rental permit program that takes effect Oct. 1.

For traditional condo-lodges, like The Gant, for example, there is no restriction on guest nights, and one permit can cover the entire lodge. Condo-lodges also also will need lodge-exempt permits, which are $148.

Two types of STR permits are available for owner-occupied units.

One permit limits owner-occupied units to 120 rental-nights annually. Another permit, for both non-owner-occupied and owner-occupied residential properties, has no limitations on guest nights per year. Properties under the deeded ownership of limited-liability companies will not be eligible for the permit. The owner-occupied permits come at a cost of $394.

If the council favors taking the excise tax proposal to voters, two more City Council hearings will be held this month to approve the ballot language that would advance to Pitkin County for certification to be placed on the November ballot.


CORE names Dallas Blaney as its new executive director

Dallas Blaney is the new CEO of Community Office for Resource Efficiency.

Blaney comes to CORE from an executive director role he had at another nonprofit, Challenge America.

“I’m passionate about addressing our challenges with sustainability, and I’m thrilled to get back into this work,” Blaney said in a statement. “Innovation is what historically sets CORE apart from other organizations. We need to continue to find creative solutions that positively impact the lives of our neighbors and communities as well as the environment.” 

In addition to his time leading and growing nonprofit organizations, Blaney received a Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University and spent several years lecturing on global sustainability and other relevant topics at the collegiate level. He is also a full-time Carbondale resident.

“During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead CORE than Dallas Blaney,” said Katie Schwoerer, CORE board chair. “Dallas is a proven leader with the skills, vision and ability to bring people together. We are confident CORE can scale climate solutions to meet the increasing urgency of the climate crisis under Dallas’ leadership.”

The announcement follows weeks after Ryland French, formerly from Aspen Skiing Co., joined the CORE staff as senior director of regional climate strategy. 

Scott Bayens: More than just natural beauty

Ask any local or frequent visitor to the valley why they live or vacation here —  natural beauty is the No. 1 answer. Snow-covered peaks, turquoise and high-alpine lakes, fall colors and our endless, colorful vistas are literally baked into our name! Not far behind is lifestyle, which usually equates to all of our awesome outdoor year-round activities. People the world over flock to our state to enjoy biking, camping, fishing, floating, hunting, outdoor concerts, and although it’s still a few months away, skiing and other winter pursuits. 

It was the Homestead Act in 1862 that first beckoned settlers to the fertile farmlands in the eastern portion of the state. The larger metropolitan areas on the Front Range grew from town to cities and now boast professional sporting events, museums and malls. And here in the West, in our booming mountain towns, there exists other more subtle yet powerful attractants.

In the late ’60s, the Vietnam War, social and political unrest, and public demonstrations in cites and on college campus prompted many to “check out” and end up in places like ours. Here they could escape the chaos, live a life away from the norm and the expectations of American society, and breathe in that fresh mountain air. 

I know that’s one of the reasons I ended up here. Same for my wife and many we know. It’s just different here — fewer expectations, less judgment, and more “free to be me.”

From boomers who hitchhiked here 70 years ago, to Gen X, and then millennials, we share many of the same traits and a collective philosophy.  Most of us are fiercely independent, anti-authoritarian, and took a risk by leaving family, friends and the “norm” behind. Others just ran away. Either way, we’re a different breed.

Not surprisingly, Colorado has been on the forefront on many controversial and progressive issues over the years. In 2012, the Centennial State made headlines when it legalized the purchase, possession and consumption of marijuana whether you used it for a sore back or just wanted to get stoned.  Two years later, same-sex marriage was legalized here. 

I mention these two landmark decisions specific to my monthly commentary on real estate, as they both had a measurable impact on tourism and later, state residency. Once pot became legal, we quickly saw a rise in marijuana tourism. Dopers from far and wide wanted to see for themselves what it was like to walk into a pot shop and walk out with a bag of weed.

At the same time, savvy entrepreneurs and investors rushed in to be among the first to secure licenses and real estate. Since legalization, legal pot has raked more than $2 billion in state revenue. Although our experiment was a success and clearly here to stay, legalization is not without its detractors and remains controversial. But compared to gay marriage, legal pot enjoys much more widespread support.

Whether for or against same-sex unions, when legalized in 2016 that change also added significant revenue to state coffers. Those not allowed to marry in their home states came here for the ceremony and while here spent money on wedding cakes, hotels, restaurants and event venues.

Personally, many of my gay friends moved to Colorado specifically to benefit from and support that change. Conversely, one can speculate some may have moved away in protest to more conservative states and to the Bible Belt. But either way, there can be no argument these controversial and progressive policies have been a boon to our economy. 

That brings me to last month’s landmark decision on reproductive rights.  The right to an abortion is now left to the states. Here in Colorado, it remains legal. 

My prediction is, like pot and same-sex marriage, that stance will create a type of “tourism” of its own, although one to be enjoyed only by those with the means to travel inside our borders. And while neighboring states are working actively to prohibit that, women will find ways to get here just as surely as the rest of us found ways to score a bag of joints before it was legal.

And like those of us who came here for the beauty and the “free to be you and me,” followed by those who adopted Colorado as aligned with their “lifestyle,” I predict a new wave of newcomers as a result of this latest decision. No matter how you feel about legal drugs, LBGTs or unplanned pregnancy, that migration is sure to have an impact on everything from state revenue to real estate.

Scott Bayens is a Realtor® with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Visit his website at www.scottbayens.com

Glenwood Springs hotel conversion ordinance tweak made to address ‘water grab’ concerns

The city of Glenwood Springs will not require a group of West Glenwood hotel properties to switch over to city water if they want to convert to extended-stay hotels or permanent housing.

City Council, at its regular Thursday night meeting, voted 7-0 on second reading removing a provision in its new hotel/motel conversion ordinance that originally required a connection to city water in order to adequately supply a fire suppression sprinkler system.

The new ordinance seeks to address the city’s workforce housing needs by streamlining the process for hotel conversions to help meet that need.

The change regarding fire suppression systems was aimed at a group of older hotel properties along U.S. Highway 6&24 that are on the separate Mitchell Cooper water system.

If any of those properties were to be redeveloped as extended-stay hotels or for multi-family housing, they would need to install adequate fire sprinkler systems, per the uniform building and fire codes adopted by the city.

The Mitchell Cooper (MC) system does not currently have that capability, which is why the city water provision was originally added to the ordinance.

With the ordinance change, though, there’s no longer a mandate to come onto city water to meet that requirement, if the operators of the MC system can show that water for adequate fire suppression needs can be provided.

“That’s a discussion for them to have with their water provider,” City Attorney Karl Hanlon said, acknowledging that puts the responsibility on the operators of the MC system to make some needed upgrades to the system.

Hanlon said before the Thursday meeting that the city is not seeking to take over anyone’s water rights. Rather, it’s a life-safety issue for any of the aging hotel/motel properties that convert to residential use.

“Their system, as currently designed, has no ability to deliver fire flows,” Hanlon said ahead of the Thursday meeting.

Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson offered that, aside from proving adequate water flow for fire suppression once system upgrades are made, properties seeking to convert could install a boost pump and store water on site to supply the sprinkler system as needed.

As it stands, though, MC has not been able to provide any water to its customers for about four years, after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a 2017 order requiring MC to shut down or bring the system up to current standards.

Since 2018, properties within the MC system have been on city water per the provisions of a 1984 agreement with the city when that part of West Glenwood was annexed.

The rural water company is a throwback to the pre-1980s era before most of West Glenwood was annexed into the city. The system takes in a block of mostly commercial properties stretching along Highway 6&24 from Rodeway Inn on the east to Red Mountain Lodge on the west, and north to Donegan Road taking in several mobile home parks and other residential areas.

Some of those property owners were before council Thursday prepared to claim the city water provision related to fire suppression amounted to a “water grab.”

The amended language essentially puts it on the MC shareholders to make the needed improvements to provide water for fire suppression needs, or to give permission for any conversion properties to switch over to city water.

Arthur Rothman, who owns the Red Mountain Inn and is president of the MC water company, said before the meeting that he believes the city wants to take over their water shares and bring all of the properties onto city water.

He’s one of about 40 shareholders on the system, which has historic water rights on both Mitchell and Oasis creeks dating back to the late 1800s.

“This is a system that serves 400 to 500 people every day in West Glenwood, and we believe it provides a valuable asset to the property owners,” he said in an interview before the Thursday meeting.

Rothman said the group is working to bring the water system up to standards, including plans to build a new water filtration plant. 

“We have an easement in place, and the plant has been designed and approved,” he said.

At Thursday’s council meeting, he asked that the proposed ordinance amendments be tabled until matters related to water needs could be further discussed. 

Monica Wolny, who owns Hanging Lake Inn, said it was the lodge owners within the MC system who have been pushing the city to make hotel conversions for housing purposes easier to do.

But the expense of the fire suppression systems, especially if they have to switch over to city water, is cost-prohibitive, she said.

“You guys still want us to give up our water rights and go onto city water, basically to give the city more (water income),” Wolny charged. “We’re not giving anything up.”

Laurie Raymond, who lives in one of the affected mobile home parks, urged the city not to do anything to negatively impact the MC system.

Raymond urged city council to further address issues with the MC operators through mediation, which several council members agreed should happen.

Aside from the water issues, though, council was ready to move the hotel conversion ordinance along.

In voting unanimously to approve the ordinance on second reading, council agreed to do away with the city water provision, as well as a 90-day extension for installing fire suppression systems when city water is used.

Several other changes to the ordinance were also approved, including a requirement that 35% of the units in any converted property be price restricted. That’s above the 10% requirement for standard residential developments.

Council members also agreed to have city staff further define standards for the requirement kitchenettes that would need to be added to converted units, as well as provisions for a parking management plan for converted properties.

The conversion ordinance provides leniency in the city’s normal parking requirements for residential development. Still, council wants to ensure parking from converted properties does not spill onto neighboring properties and public streets.

That language can be added to the ordinance at a later time by amendment, Hanlon said.


Reports show a mixed bag for Aspen-area economy

The local economy is starting to show its soft side in the retail and lodging sectors while the real estate industry keeps marching along, according to recent reports.

Retail sales in Aspen in May showed a slight increase over May 2021 and lodging reservations in June were flat compared with June 2021, yet the total real estate sales volume in Pitkin County in May was 15.2% ahead of the same month last year. Those were the most recent figures available for the respective sectors as of Tuesday.

Retail sales in Aspen sales were 1.8% up in May, totaling $41.1 million, according to the city’s monthly tax consumption report issued last week. Through the first five months of 2022, total retail sales stood at $490.4 million, a whopping 49.6% ahead of the same time frame last year. Yet Pete Strecker, the city finance director, noted in last week’s report that he expects that roll to slow down due to the Russia/Ukraine war and the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hikes.

“With persistent economic headwinds still present — originating from the war in Ukraine and exacerbated by domestic monetary policy actions taken by the Federal Reserve — the remainder of the fiscal year is expected to show continued softening,” Strecker said.

The city’s sale tax collections in May, one of the slower months of the year, were 2% higher than in May 2021. While that’s an improvement on paper, Strecker cautioned that the statistical uptick was skewed by inflation.

“While this is growth, taking inflationary pressures of roughly 8% into account that should trickle through into taxable sales, one can deduce that monthly economic activity was actually lagging that of May 2021,” Strecker wrote.

Reservations figures for June also showed a tapering Aspen economy, according to the July 2022 Occupancy Report & Executive Summary released Tuesday by Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen’s occupancy rate was 53.8% in June, down from 63.4% in June 2021, the report said.

Another report issued Monday, however, put Aspen’s occupancy rate at 71.9% in June, tops among the state’s ski-resort towns that also are big summer draws.

Aspen’s average daily rate of  $701.09 was easily the most expensive in Colorado in June, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report, which is commissioned by the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association. Telluride’s $444.29 ADR was the second priciest in the state, according to the report. 

The report did not include Snowmass Village, which Skico said was down from a 47.6% occupancy rate in June 2021 to 42.7% last month. The Skico report noted that the Viewline and Wildwood lodging properties were closed for renovations in June 2021. Because occupancy reports provide percentages based on the number of available rooms at the time, the Skico report said, they “don’t tell an accurate story with regards to how many rooms were actually occupied compared to last year.”

The number of occupied rooms in Snowmass, the report said, “are significantly more than last June.”

“So, while the hotels are seeing lower occupancy percentages as reported in these reports, the retail, restaurants, and activities companies should be seeing more visitors this year than last year,” the report said.

July is showing an occupancy rate of 60.9% between Aspen and Snowmass, roughly the same as this time last year, the report said.

Overall, “summer is at 38.2% vs. 46.9% last year,” the report said, adding the total rooms booked this summer are ahead of this time last year. It’s the occupancy rate that is down. “When the total rooms rented filter is applied, summer is pacing slightly up to last year. This trend of occupancy vs. total occupied rooms will continue this summer and throughout the winter as well as there are hotels scheduled to be out of next winter’s inventory as well.”

As for real estate, May’s total sales volume in Pitkin County amounted to $413.4 million compared to $358.8 million in May 2021, according to data from Land Title Guarantee Co.

Total sales volume was nearly $1.7 billion from January through May, 12.8% better than the nearly $1.5 million for the first five months of 2021.

In Aspen for the first six months of the year, the city collected nearly $11 million in real estate taxes for its housing coffers at the close of all free-market sales, outpacing the $8.3 million it collected from January 2021 through May 2021 by 32.3%.

The Wheeler Opera House portion of the RETT used for the city-owned venue and other arts organizations brought in $5.7 million the first half of this year, 31.9% ahead of the $4.3 million haul from January through May 21, the city’s consumption report said.

New ground shuttle service, Roaring Fork Express, to debut this month

A ground transportation service called Roaring Fork Express announced Monday it will enter the local market this month with service on a scaled basis, with plans to expand its offerings this winter.

Roaring Fork Express, owned by Montrose-based CO West Transportation, will begin limited on-demand commercial operations July 22, offering daily shuttles to Denver International Airport and Eagle County Airport, along with wedding and event transportation. 

The new service comes after Epic Mountain Express, formerly known as Colorado Mountain Express, stopped serving the Roaring Fork Valley in October. The CME shuttle service currently covers Eagle and Summit counties.

 “The need for this service became readily apparent during last winter’s snowy Christmas holidays,” said Bill Tomcich, airline consultant to Fly Aspen Snowmass, in a statement. “Replacing scheduled ground transportation into Aspen Snowmass became a very high priority, and we are excited to welcome Roaring Fork Express as an organization that is both qualified and experienced in providing these vital services.” 

The new service is a result of a collaboration among Roaring Fork Shuttle, Aspen Skiing Co. and Fly Aspen Snowmass.

 “When looking for a new transportation partner, our priorities were to find a company with an excellent service reputation, and eagerness to partner with our community and a one best suited to serve our locals and visitors alike,” said Kristi Kavanagh, Skico vice president of global sales, in a statement. “Once we learned of the goals and vision of the Roaring Fork Express team, it was obvious they were the right partner with whom to align.”

Shuttle and wedding/event services can be booked by calling 970-486-3002 or 800-822-4844, or at www.roaringforkexpress.com. 

Packraft Colorado brings lightweight rafting to the Roaring Fork River

Back in 2016, as a student at Colorado College, Noah Zemel and his friends found their way into the world of packrafting. With lightweight, packable water vessels in tow, they could paddle down rivers and hike out of remote canyons and take desert trips that included both long hikes and flatwater floating. 

“Eventually, we started running more whitewater, and then we all moved up here (to the Roaring Fork Valley) in 2017 and started running the Roaring Fork all the time and (the) Crystal and Colorado, all our local waterways,” said Zemel, who’s now based in Aspen. “And over the years, this is kind of just doing this for fun, it seemed to me there’s kind of a niche that needs to be filled.” 

So Zemel filled it, launching Packraft Colorado in the spring of this year. After “a lot of legwork” over the winter season, Zemel acquired some rafts in April and the first lesson took place May 10. He has taught about seven courses so far and led a few guided day trips as well on the Roaring Fork River. 

Zemel now has a fleet of about a dozen packrafts, each of which usually carries one paddler and some gear down the river on a Packraft Colorado trip. He uses rigs from Alpacka Raft, a company based in southwest Colorado; people can rent the rafts from Packraft Colorado for their own expeditions or sign up for a lesson or guided trip. 

Zemel said he still sees the Packraft Colorado venture as a “passion project.” His primary gig at the helm of a limousine company remains the money maker; it also comes in handy for the necessary shuttles and transportation to run river trips.

The goal at this point is to build up the name, and “hopefully eventually” to acquire the necessary permits to offer multi-day experiences on bigger, longer rivers.

Packrafts are well equipped for those kinds of adventures because they’re light enough to pack up and carry on foot, too. 

“Eventually, the idea of the business is to get permits to run overnight trips — you know, be able to incorporate the backpacking elements as well and focus on wilderness character in a low impact setting,” Zemel said. “That goes hand-in-hand with backpacking.” 

In the meantime, Zemel is offering both instructional courses and guided adventures for people with different levels of paddling skill and experience. 

“It’s still kind of up in the air what direction the company should go in, in terms of courses versus guided trips,” Zemel said. “Courses are great because it draws out the adventurous Colorado crowd, versus trying to market day trips towards the Aspen clientele.”

Beginner courses, for instance, start with a morning flatwater session to get familiar with the basics of setting up and getting into the boat, plus paddle technique, safety and “how to recover if you flip — that’s a really important one,” Zemel said. 

Then, an afternoon session takes rafters down the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to Catherine Store. It’s a “nice, pretty chill section of the river, very scenic,” and it gives participants the chance to implement the skills they learned about in the morning. 

Guided tours are more of a follow-the-leader situation, with a trip down the same section of river after a “basic safety talk.” 

There’s also an intermediate offering that follows the river from Woody Creek down toward where the river meets Colorado Highway 82. Self-guided floats through North Star Nature Preserve also are available. 


REI readies to enter Glenwood Springs outdoor retail market

A week and one day before its official opening, the new REI Co-op store in south Glenwood Springs resembles an outdoor education teaching lab.

Near the front of the 20,300-square-foot space at the Roaring Fork Marketplace that formerly housed Office Depot (3216 S. Glen Ave., Suite A), a group of new REI employees is learning how to instruct and help customers in purchasing a suitable backpack.

Another group in the back of the store is boning up on the various shoe brands; another is learning how to pair customers with the right mountain bike and accessories; another is learning everything there is to know about camping gear; ditto for paddle sports.

The front counter is lined with soon-to-be check-out clerks getting trained on the computer system.

Employees will take part in a “Friends and Family Night” trial run on Wednesday to practice their newly-honed customer service and sales skills. The store opens with a three-day grand opening celebration Friday through Sunday, July 22-24, including giveaways and an outdoor social from 1-5 p.m. each afternoon with music and an outdoor gear festival showcasing numerous brands.

It’s all part of REI’s hands-on, “see, feel, touch” approach to outfitting its customers that new Glenwood Springs Store Manager Jace Harms said sets REI apart in the outdoor recreation retail industry.

The new REI Co-op store is set to have its grand opening in Glenwood Springs Friday through Sunday, July 22-24.

“It’s part of our legacy as an outdoor outfitter, to really work to service everybody who comes in the doors, and we put that into action every day,” said Harms, who has been employed by the member-owned co-op for four years.

The Nebraska native joined up with the company after moving to Dallas out of college about 10 years ago. He worked at the Dallas flagship store before jumping at the chance to manage the new Glenwood Springs store.

“It was an opportunity for me to get a little bit closer to home and where I grew up, while also providing that outdoor playground that we all enjoy,” Harms said. “This community continues to embrace and remind me of the small, rural town where I grew up, and it’s refreshing to be in a community where you know people’s names and are able to engage and give back to the community.”

Already, since arriving in March, Harms said he volunteered for a Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) trail work crew at Carbondale’s Red Hill trail area. 

RFOV was also one of four local organizations benefiting from the first round of REI Gives grants, totaling $20,000. The others were the Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and Gay for Good.

Hiring up

Glenwood Springs REI Store Manager Jace Harms, center, listens in during a training session for new employees on backpacks at the new store set to open July 22.

The Glenwood Springs store, because of its smaller size compared to the urban flagship stores, and because of its launching-point location for outdoor fun, is classified as a “gateway” store.

It’s similar in size and product categories to REI stores in 

Dillon, which opened in 2017, and the Grand Junction store, which opened in 2000 then relocated and expanded some a few years ago.  

Surprisingly, though hiring the staff of between 45 and 54 needed to run the Glenwood store has been challenging in the area’s tight labor market, Harms said they’re currently at 41 employees.

“One of the things that has kept me with REI is that, at the center of everything we do is the people,” he said. “We value and pride ourselves on taking care of our people at every turn. So, responding to the local hiring climate, to make sure that we are showing up competitively, is part of that.”

REI also has a focus on hiring locally among existing outdoors enthusiasts as much as possible, because they are the resident experts who are best suited to provide advice on where to go locally to recreate, and what kind of gear is best, Harms said.

“Whether trying a new activity or heading out on a familiar trail or waterway, we aspire to be at the center of people’s outdoor lives for products and expertise,” he said.

Incentives for employees include a one-time, $300 hiring bonus and a paid day off starting day one so that they can go out and recreate themselves, Harms said. And, company-wide starting in 2023, there will no longer be a minimum hours requirement for employees to receive health insurance benefits, he said.

REI Glenwood is still looking for full- and part-time retail sales associates; info on the REI jobs page.

Outdoor retail co-habitation

Harms said REI knows it’s not the end-all, be-all when it comes to outdoor gear, especially in smaller communities that already have an established outdoor culture.

While the new REI store features gear and apparel for hiking, camping, paddling, cycling, running, fitness and snowsports, and a specialty bike and ski/snowboard shop for tuning and repairing equipment, there are niche areas that still fall to others.

“We have every intention when a customer says, ‘oh, you don’t have a climb department,’ or ‘you don’t have that brand,’ we can say, ‘no, but you know who does, is Summit Canyon, or Treadz, or Hookers, or Sunlight, or Factory Outdoor,’” Harms said. 

Summit Canyon Mountaineering Store Manager Emma Hunnicutt said that having an established presence and loyal customer base is important.

“As for the addition of REI, we are feeling positive about the future and are continuously grateful for the support of our locals, who are like family to us,” she said. 

Hunnicutt noted that Summit Canyon has been outfitting locals and visitors for outdoor adventures since 1978, “and we don’t plan on stopping any time soon,” she said.

“We are excited to be getting back to our roots and have been working on expanding our climbing and mountaineering departments, as well as offerings in pretty much every category,” Hunnicutt said. “Summit is more than just a store, it’s a fixture within the community.”

For REI’s part, Harms said the store recently joined the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and is hoping to plug into the business community in other ways.

“One of my goals is to meet those business partners and see how we can support each other, whether that’s through stewardship and partnering to do a trail project or trash pickups, or whatever,” Harms said.

As for outdoor recreation demand locally, with a large population base in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, and some 2.2 million tourists visiting the area every year, “We believe there’s plenty of outside to go around for everybody,” he said.   

REI also has more than 1.1 million lifetime co-op members in Colorado.

Retail sales up 1% in June, easing fears of a recession

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumers picked up their spending from May to June, underscoring their resilience despite painfully higher prices at the gas pump and in grocery aisles and allaying fears that the economy might be on the verge of a recession.

U.S. retail sales rose 1% in June, from a revised decline of 0.1 % in May, the Commerce Department said Friday.

The figures aren’t adjusted for inflation and so largely reflect higher prices, particularly for gas. But they also show that consumers are still providing crucial support for the economy and spending on such discretionary items as furniture, restaurant meals and sporting goods.

At the same time, last month’s spending gain is modest enough that it likely won’t encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates even more aggressively. Stock prices rose after the report’s release.

“People did not fold in the face of the Ukraine shock and the subsequent surge in food and energy prices,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Instead, they ran down a small part of their pandemic savings in order to keep up their discretionary spending.”

Consumers still have significant savings, on average, bolstered by pandemic-era government relief checks and strong hiring and pay gains. JPMorgan executives said Thursday that their customers are still breaking out their credit and debit cards at a healthy pace.

Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said that excluding inflation, retail sales still rose about 0.3% in June, up from a contraction of 0.4% in May. She expects the economy to grow at a slim 0.5% annual rate in the April-June quarter, after shrinking in the first three months of the year.

The report showed consumers’ ongoing appetite for non-essentials like gadgets and furniture. In fact, sales at furniture stores rose 1.4%, while consumer electronics stores rose 0.4%. Online sales showed resurgence, posting a 2.2% increase. Business at restaurants was up 1%. But department stores took a hit, posting a 2.6% decline.

The solid figures bold well for the back-to-school shopping season, the second largest sales period behind the winter holidays. Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all payment forms including cash, forecasts that back-to-school spending will be up 7.5% from July 14 through Sept. 5 compared with the year-ago period when sales rose 11%.

But spending is volatile. The latest round of retail earnings reports released in May showed some slowing of spending, particularly with low-income shoppers. RH, an upscale furniture chain, cut it sales outlook for the year last last month, pointing to deteriorating macro-economic conditions. It cited higher mortgage rates, which are slowing sales of luxury homes, indicating that even wealthy shoppers are pulling back.

Nevertheless, the overall solid spending came even as shoppers were confronted with high prices in all areas. U.S. inflation surged to a new four-decade high in June because of rising prices for gas, food and rent, squeezing household budgets and pressuring the Fed to raise rates aggressively — trends that raise the risk of a recession.

The government’s consumer price index soared 9.1% in June compared with a year ago, the biggest yearly increase since 1981, with nearly half of the increase due to higher energy costs. The year-over-year leap in consumer prices last month followed an 8.6% annual jump in May. From May to June, prices rose 1.3%, following a 1% increase from April to May.

Some economists believe inflation might be reaching a short-term peak. Gas prices, for example, have fallen from $5 a gallon reached in mid-June to an average of $4.57 nationwide Thursday — still far higher than a year ago.

Arie Kotler, chairman, president and CEO of Arko Corp., one of the largest operators of convenience stores in the U.S., believes that if gas prices keep coming down “people will have more money in their pocket to spend inside the store.” The chain, located mostly in rural and small towns, continues to offer deals on coffee and food like $1.99 for a slice of pizza.

Accelerating inflation is a big problem for the Fed, too. The central bank is already involved in the fastest series of interest rate hikes in three decades, which it hopes will tame inflation by tamping down borrowing and spending by consumers and businesses.

The retail sales report covers about a third of overall consumer spending and doesn’t include services, such as haircuts, hotel stays and plane tickets.

Rugaber contributed from Washington.

Business owners spew frustration at Aspen’s electeds over bike lane experiment

A local business owner presented over 1,000 signatures Tuesday to Aspen City Council from people who are against the new dedicated bike lane and parallel parking configuration on a two-block stretch in the downtown core.

Kenny and Robin Smith, owners of Meridian Jewelers located on the 500 block of Cooper Avenue, presented the signatures that have been collected at several businesses along the corridor since the living lab was implemented in late June.

“If there is a constant creep in eliminating parking from the core, we’re seeing a lot of pain and negative feedback and frustration about that right now,” Kenny Smith said. “In one week, we got 1,019 signatures, which I feel is a pretty significant expression of discontent for what people are seeing on the street. … There are a lot of names that you guys will recognize on there and it’s a lot of people who primarily bike or walk to the core.”

He also pointed out that with the elimination of 44 parking spaces in that area, which were replaced in outlying zones of the downtown core, doesn’t accommodate elderly and handicapped people who want to shop and dine in town.

“I feel like what we are saying is that if you can’t walk or ride your bike in the core, you’re not welcome,” Kenny Smith said.

At the direction of council, the city engineering department implemented the experiment, which is set to last until Sept. 26, to improve pedestrian and bike safety.

Last year the city did a community survey in which the majority of 400 respondents said they wanted more safety measures downtown for pedestrians and cyclists.

Council’s desire and direction to staff for the past several years is to prioritize pedestrian and bicyclists and find ways to reduce the number of cars coming into town.

Mayor Torre, anticipating public comment on the topic during Tuesday’s regular meeting, told those in council chambers that he and his colleagues are listening.

“The project’s goals were to develop a holistic plan to incrementally improve safety and mobility in Aspen’s downtown core by balancing priorities for all users, that’s pedestrians, bikes and cars,” he said. “This is a living lab, which means it is an experiment and a trial and this council is open to the community’s input and we want to know what you think, any improvements that you see that can be made.”

Joe DiSalvo, an Aspen resident, co-owner of a business downtown and the Pitkin County sheriff, told council the city has created unsafe conditions to a point where he crashed to the ground on his bike last Friday when a group of people walked off the sidewalk and into the bike lane without looking.

One of the problems is that the parallel parking spaces are now located several feet away from the sidewalk and people are forced to walk across the dedicated bike lane to get to their vehicles, DiSalvo said.

“It’s a preventable accident,” he said. “As sheriff I don’t have a product that I can hold in my hand, my only product is safety and I look at that living lab and it’s not the model of safety, it’s exactly the opposite. …

“This is your opportunity to make these changes now.”

Other observations from people are that pedestrians are using the bike lane and painted yellow barrier lines in front of the parking spaces to walk in the road, and cars just continue to circle the block looking for a place to park.

“I personally think it makes the downtown core unsafe,” said Pat Degelo, who has a custom clothing tailoring and alterations business that serves several clients downtown. “I think it’s not as safe because now the cars are driving around and around and around.

“If your goal was to decrease emissions, it’s increased now because the cars are driving around and they just want to park because this is America, a driving nation,” she continued. “Everybody’s in a car, especially tourists.”