Aspen retail economy forges ahead with improving numbers
April 2020 was so forgettable that even the city of Aspen’s finance department did not pay it serious consideration in its most recent economic analysis.
In its monthly Consumption Tax report issued Friday afternoon, the finance department reported $48.8 million in retail sales in April of this year, which was 222.7% better than April 2020.
Business activity in April of last year, however, grounded to a halt as part of a nationwide lock down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants and hotels were closed, and Colorado ski areas were shut down by governor’s orders.
In the most recent April, business operated under the less-restrictive public health orders. And currently Aspen and Pitkin County have returned to near pre-pandemic normality, with some mask restrictions in place (public transportation, for instance).
“In line with business community sentiment, April’s taxable sales reflected significant restoration of economic activity for the period,” wrote Anthony Lewin, the city’s senior tax auditor, in introductory comments to the report. “Total taxable sales rose in all industries, with some categories increasing over 3,000% relative to the start of the COVID pandemic one year prior.”
Accommodations posted a gain of 3,183.6% in April over April 2020, for example. Restaurants also were up 635.4%, yet the huge rises are grossly misleading if taken at face value.
“Given the impact of the pandemic on 2020 actuals, comparisons between last year and current collections is less meaningful and the narrative included in this release will focus more on benchmark statistics to 2019 to help assess the overall economic activity relative to a more normalized year,” Levin wrote.
There was no pandemic hanging over April 2019, which saw $36 million in taxable retail sales in Aspen, according to older sales tax reports.
Retail sectors tracked and taxed by the city made the following showings in April 2021:
• Accommodations, $7.5 million
• Restaurants/bars, $7.6 million
• Sports equipment/clothing, $2.7 million
• Fashion clothing, $4.9 million
• Construction, $4.3 million
• Food and drug, $3.9 million
• Liquor, $733,871
• Miscellaneous, $6 million
• Jewelry/gallery, $1.8 million
• Utilities, $5.6 million
• Automobile, $1.8 million
• Marijuana, $773,817
• Bank/finance, $234,667
• Health/beauty, $833,847
“Overall, April’s sales tax collections were up 29% from the same period in 2019,” Lewin wrote. “Lodging tax collections were up 23% to the same month. While these are definite improvements to note, April is a lesser month of annual tax collections and experiences wider fluctuations when there are minor deviations from the norm.”
April is when the ski areas wound down operations in Aspen and Snowmass, and it followed a March that pulled in $105.5 million in taxable retail sales, a February that generated $70.8 million, and a January with $62.3 million.
The first four months of 2021 combined for $287.4 million, up 13.5% over January through April 2020. The same period in 2019 saw $305.2 in retail sales, according to city finance records.
Momentum is building for a strong summer, Lewin reported.
“With increased summer reservations on the books for many operators, there is a positive outlook coming from multiple members in this sector, and the city is hopeful for improved collections as the year continues,” he wrote.
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Construction has stopped indefinitely on the raze-and-replacement project at 300 E. Hyman Ave., home of the Crystal Palace Theatre Restaurant from 1957 until 2008. The site was closed July 1 after seeing sparse if any activity during the second half of June.