Aspen ’04 sales set high mark |

Aspen ’04 sales set high mark

Janet Urquhart

Retail sales in Aspen last year eclipsed the $400 million mark for the first time in history, according to the year-end sales tax report issued Tuesday by the city’s finance office.December sales alone totaled $60.2 million, up 16.3 percent over the same month in 2003, helping push sales for the year to a record high. Overall sales in 2004 were up 9.2 percent over 2003.For the record, total taxable sales last year rang in at $405,710,940, but Paul Menter, city finance director, downplayed the significance of topping $400 million in annual sales.”It’s just a number,” he said, comparing the benchmark to watching the odometer in one’s car roll over to 200,000 miles.”It’s a pretty big number – $400 million in taxable retail sales for a town with 6,000 residents,” he conceded. “It clearly demonstrates that we’ve kind of returned to the pre-2001 trend, I think is what it shows.”Aspen also set a record for sales tax collections in 2004, but adjusted for inflation, the city’s buying power has lagged. Last year’s sales tax revenues have less purchasing power than the same sum a decade ago, according to Menter.The city collected $8.9 million from its 2.2 percent sales tax last year – 7 percent more than it had budgeted and 9 percent more than the city tallied in 2003.Every sector of the local retail economy posted gains last year except for the specialty retail category (gifts, books, antiques, luggage and the like), which was down 3.2 percent, and T-shirt sales, which slipped 0.8 percent.Tourist accommodations were up 10.3 percent, while restaurant/bar business was up 9.2 percent. Together, the two categories accounted for almost half of overall sales in 2004.Among other sectors, food and drug sales were up 3.8 percent from 2003; clothing store sales were up 13 percent; general retail (including such items as paint, hardware and appliances) was up 22.8 percent; utilities were up 9.2 percent; sports equipment/clothing receipts were up 5.8 percent; liquor store sales were up 2.1 percent; and jewelry sales climbed 22.3 percent.Among categories that each account for less than 1 percent of overall sales, fur sales were up 5.1 percent; gallery sales were up 38.8 percent and miscellaneous receipts were up nearly 50 percent.Last year’s sales activity represents a return to Aspen’s historic trend of economic activity, rather than a “blockbuster” year, according to Menter.”I don’t think it means all of our economy’s problems have miraculously been solved,” he said, noting the resort’s loss of tourist bed base and high rents. “I think the message is 2004 was a turn-around year. It was a return to prior trends.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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