Aspen retail sales nosedive in December, but 2020 ends down 6.9% from previous year

Staff report
Gallery caption: Both December and year-end totals for 2020 showed overall drops in retail sales in Aspen, according to a report issued Thursday by the city Finance Department. These charts break down sales performance by business sectors in both December and the entire 2020. (Source: Finance Department, city of Aspen)

December retail sales in Aspen plummeted by 37.3% to cap off a year that saw an overall decrease of 6.9% because of pandemic restrictions enacted to stem the spread of COVID-19 cases.

The city Finance Department’s monthly tax consumption report, which came out Thursday, also showed December accounted for $94.7 million in taxable sales. December 2019 saw $118.6 million in sales, according to older tax reports.

The steep decrease in 2020’s final month was attributable to the county’s move into Red-level restrictions Dec. 21, noted Anthony Lewin, the city’s senior tax auditor, in the report. Restaurants were exempt from Red status at the time, and allowed to continue serving at a 25% capacity level indoors.

“With the Board of Public Health decision to move into level Red restrictions on Dec. 21, Aspen’s December tourism-centric economy experienced a one-third drop in local spend,” Lewin wrote. “This drop was again felt most pointedly in the lodging and restaurant industries.”

Lewin’s write-up also noted sharp declines in occupancy rates at “traditional lodge offerings” — hotels and lodges — which were “hovering just over 40%.” Historically over the past five years, December occupancy rates have ranged from 60% to 62%, Lewin reported.

Overall accommodations, which also included short-term rentals at condos and private residences, amounted to $20.6 million in December, which was 43.7% lower than the $36.2 million generated in December 2019.

Restaurants brought in $10.7 million, down 33% from $15.9 million in December 2019.

The entire 2020 wasn’t nearly as bad as December, with $766.2 million in sales compared with $819.8 million in 2019.

Accommodations for the year amounted to $177 million in sales. When matched with $236 million in 2019, that’s a 25.3% falloff. Restaurants and bars were at $122.8 million for the year, 11.6% down from $138.9 million in 2019. Worth noting is that bars were closed for most of 2020 and remain that way.

One bright spot was in liquor sales, which were 21.4% higher than 2019’s totals. Liquor stores posted $13.3 million in sales in 2020, compared with $10.9 million in 2019, according to the report.