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Aspen sales sizzling

Janet Urquhart

First-quarter retail sales in Aspen totaled a record $141.8 million, with total sales for the first three months of 2004 tracking 13.5 percent higher than the same period last year.

March sales alone were nearly 11 percent higher than the same month in 2003, following on the heels of record-setting numbers posted in January and February. The March numbers were released Friday by the city’s finance department.

Though sales totaled $51.6 million in March, a prolonged warm, dry spell during what is typically Aspen’s wettest month of the year may have nipped the resort’s chances of recording its third straight record-setting month.

March sales activity was down 1.4 percent from Aspen’s best March ever, in 1998. This year, the resort set record temperatures instead of record sales in March, and skiing took a back seat to early-season bike rides in shorts and T-shirts for many.

Most segments of the local economy nonetheless posted gains in March. Tourist accommodations were up 16 percent, compared to March 2003. Restaurant/bar business was up 8.5 percent. The two categories accounted for more than half of all sales during the month.

For the first quarter, tourist accommodations were up 16.2 percent, compared to the first three months of last year, and restaurant/bar business was up 8.6 percent. Sports equipment/clothing sales were up 16.4 percent, and clothing sales were up 9.6 percent.

Utilities were up nearly 19 percent in the first quarter, and food/drug sales were up 10.4 percent. General retail sales, including such items as hardware and appliances, were up 24.5 percent for the first quarter, while specialty retail – gifts, books, antiques, luggage and the like – was up 4.7 percent.

Liquor store sales during the first quarter were down 3.5 percent.

City sales tax collections are tracking 5.8 percent ahead of 2004 budget projections, and revenues from Aspen’s 1 percent lodging tax are 11.5 percent ahead of what was targeted for the first quarter.

Through April, revenues from the city’s real estate transfer tax dedicated to housing are 8 percent ahead of budget projections and 30 percent higher than collections through the first four months of last year.

Collections from the transfer tax dedicated to the Wheeler Opera House are 24 percent ahead of last year and 18 percent ahead of budget projections through April.

Despite the upswing in sales activity, sales tax collections are only slightly higher than those reported in the first quarter of the banner year of 1998, noted Paul Menter, the city’s finance director. If 2004 collections are adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of this year’s collected tax revenue is actually 14 percent lower than it was six years ago, he added.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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