Aspen retailers busy as holiday approaches | AspenTimes.com

Aspen retailers busy as holiday approaches

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Downtown Aspen was busy enough Friday to suggest that the Great Recession might be loosening its grip, if only briefly.

Shopping bags were much in evidence, and not just because the Gap was holding a sale. The afternoon sunshine, chasing off the chill of a cold snap, glinted off bags from places like Prada and Polo Ralph Lauren, as well.

December sales could cap off a year of rebounding economic fortunes for the resort. Retail sales were up 6 percent for the year, compared to 2010, by the close of October – the most recent month for which data is available from the city’s finance office. Last year ended on a gain as well – overall sales were up 4 percent over 2009, according to the city’s year-end tally.

At women’s clothing store P.E. 101, manager Consi Marlow said town doesn’t feel as busy as it did last year at Christmastime, but business is up.

“There aren’t as many people, but people who are here are spending,” she said.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s will be the busier one, judging from local hotel reservations, and Marlow anticipates a strong finish to the year.

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So does Morgan Vail, manager at Ajax Bike and Sports, which opened at a new, prominent location on the Cooper Avenue mall last February. The store was without an Aspen locale last Christmas, but its move into a high-profile spot and longer hours of operation are paying off, he said.

“We’ve actually sold more bicycles than we usually do at this time of year,” Vail said. More snow would help move the winter gear, he added, echoing the sentiments of other shopkeepers.

“Without a lot of snow, you don’t see a lot of people throwing down $600 for new skis,” he said.

Outside on the mall, Grand Junction resident John Matthews said the economy feels as though it’s picking up. But Matthews and his wife opted for the less expensive option in picking out fleece garments at a nearby store to give as Christmas gifts.

“I just think we’re more mindful of how we spend,” Michelle Matthews said.

The Sports Center, offering athletic apparel and shoes, is open for its second Christmas this year and will post gains, said owner Anthony Rizzuto. But, he added, Aspen hasn’t returned to the heady times of five or six years ago.

“It was unbelievable,” said Rizzuto, who was working for another retail establishment during the pre-recession boom.

“Thanksgiving used to be awesome. Now, Thanksgiving is still the offseason. We don’t even see a spike at Thanksgiving,” he said.

Last year’s retail sales in Aspen, including lodging, restaurant and bar business, clothing and equipment receipts, groceries and other goods, totaled $466.1 million, according to the city. Through October of this year, overall sales stood at $401.9 million. In 2008, even though the bottom dropped out of the economy late in the year, retail sales in Aspen hit $510.6 million.

Gary Plumley at liquor store Of Grape and Grain put the numbers in perspective, suggesting the focus should be on providing great customer service.

“I think we’re way too anal about what is happening. Does it really matter?” he said. “What will be will be.”

janet@aspentimes.com