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Aspen sales head south in February

It took until February for Aspen’s economy to really head south this winter, according to a report released Wednesday by the city of Aspen’s finance department.

Retail sales dropped 5.7 percent for the month compared to last year, the report said. Total retail sales were $42.08 million.

Retail sales were flat in December and January, according to prior reports by the finance department. In February, the lodging and restaurant industries took their lumps.

Lodging sales were down 7.2 percent compared to February 1998. Total sales reached $15.28 million for the month, traditionally one of the busiest of the year.

Restaurants and bars saw sales sag by 6.8 percent to $7.8 million.

Sales were also down for clothing stores and specialty retail shops, which include Aspen’s boutiques.

Sports equipment and clothing shops posted a modest gain of 1.1 percent to total sales of $3.75 million. General retail shops also posted a 1 percent increase for the month.

Food and drug stores were flat compared to February 1998.

Individual businesses could have performed better or worse than their category as a whole.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s business is down by an even greater margin than retail sales. Lift-ticket sales were off by about 14.5 percent through the end of February. They didn’t recover in March, according to Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton.

Lift-ticket sales aren’t reflected in the city’s reports because they aren’t subject to a sales tax.

Lagging retail sales have got city officials considering budget implications. Sales-tax revenues traditionally exceed budgeted amounts, but that’s unlikely to happen this year.

“We are looking at the possibility that our sales taxes may be down as much as 5 to 6 percent,” said Tabatha Miller, city of Aspen finance director.

So far, through just January and February, the city has collected $1.45 million in sales taxes. That’s down almost 9 percent from the budgeted amount.

The city is being cautious, but hasn’t started slashing department budgets. “We don’t want to make any rash decisions,” Miller said.

Supplemental budget allocations might be less frequent this year and Miller’s staff may recalculate year 2000 revenue projections.

Between 35 and 40 percent of the city’s annual sales-tax revenues come during January, February and March, Miller noted. However, while winter months have stayed consistent, summer months have produced increasing amounts of revenues. Therefore, there is a chance some of this year’s deficit can be offset.


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