Aspen sees retail sales plunge 14% in January |

Aspen sees retail sales plunge 14% in January

The severity of Aspen’s winter slump became clearer Tuesday when a new report showed total retail sales plunged nearly 14 percent in January.Everything from hotels to grocery stores experienced a double-digit drop in business compared to the same month last year.The loss came on the heels of a 12 percent decrease in retail sales during December and a 19 percent drop in November.Total retail sales in January were $37.9 million, down 13.68 percent. Some of the bigger sectors of the economy fell the hardest. They included:-Tourist accommodations, down 12.55 percent to sales of $13.59 million;-Restaurants and bars, down 19.43 percent to $6.47 million;-Sports equipment and clothing stores, down 12.34 percent to sales of $3.48 million;-Clothing stores, down 16.71 percent to $3.4 million;-Specialty retail shops, down 17.69 percent to $2.3 million;-General retail shops, down 20.77 percent to $1.4 million.Grocery stores, which typically thrive even when people aren’t in a shopping mood, also suffered a decline. They were off 7.15 percent to $3.19 million.Perhaps it’s no surprise that liquor was one of the few areas to post a gain. Sales were up 6.81 percent to $503,000.The city of Aspen finance department compiles the report based on sales-tax payments. Individual businesses may have done better or worse than their category as a whole.The retail sales reports don’t reflect lift-ticket sales, which aren’t taxed, or real estate transactions, which are assessed a different type of tax.Although February statistics aren’t available yet, various business operators have indicated that month wasn’t all that great, either.Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Pat O’Donnell would only discuss his company’s performance this winter in very general terms.”January obviously was not good,” said O’Donnell. “It didn’t meet our expectations. A lot of that was snow driven.”February was not exactly stellar either – snow or no snow,” O’Donnell added.The fact that snow conditions improved dramatically but business numbers still didn’t match expectations last month was particularly distressing to him. It “doesn’t make sense” that poor snow in December translates into poor business in February, he said.O’Donnell would not disclose how many skier visits the company has logged so far or the percentage change from last season. However, he confirmed that skier visits were down down from last season.The Skico was hoping to bounce back from an 8.2 percent drop in skier and snowboard rider visits during 1998-99. Now it will be lucky just to match last season’s poor performance.O’Donnell said preseason sales of multiday lift tickets for as low as $39 per day helped the Skico prevent worse losses this season. Consumers jumped at the discounts right before the Dec. 1 purchasing deadline.”We thought we had made a mistake, then things just went nuts,” he said.He’s hoping for as favorable a response to discounted lift ticket and lodging packages being offered in April. The deadline to purchase those packages is March 15.

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