Basalt businesses experience a big come back summer | AspenTimes.com

Basalt businesses experience a big come back summer

Scott Picard, right, and his employees at Sure Thing have been busy at the restaurant in Willits Town Center this year. Sales are up nearly 30 percent over last year, Picard said.

Basalt businesses are finally enjoying a gangbuster summer after taking a few years to shake off the recession.

The summer and fall are always Basalt's cash cow seasons, so expectations were high. Business leaders said Wednesday most people they have talked to say their expectations were exceeded.

"You can tell there's been a shift. It's palatable," said Tracy Bennett, owner of Midland Shoe and president of the Basalt Downtown Business Association.

She recorded her second best September this year after 22 years in business and recorded a solid summer. "My busy times are mid-June up through Christmas," she said.

In her role with the business association, she's hearing from many business operators that the summer was strong.

Robin Waters, president and CEO of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, said she recently talked to 200 business operators who picked up vouchers for discounts on ski passes. Almost all of them raved about the summer business.

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"I'm hearing incredible buzz," Waters said.

Some are saying they are having their best year ever, she said. Others are having their best year since the recession hit in 2009.

The town's sales tax collections for the first part of the summer bear out the buzz. Sales tax revenue in June, collected in July, were $399,666, up 8.3 percent from the same month in 2014, according to a report by Finance Director Judi Tippetts.

July sales tax revenue, collected in August, were up six percent to $453,513, the report showed. July sales were the latest available.

For the year-to-date through July, sales are up almost 10 percent. The town collected about $2.9 million in sales tax revenue through July. Every major category in the town's economy posted a gain over the prior year.

Retail food sales, which are dominated by Whole Foods Market and City Market, were up 6.3 percent. They accounted for $1.27 million in sales tax revenue or 43 percent of the town's total sales tax revenue. The grocery stores are doing better than in 2013, when Whole Foods was still in its honeymoon period.

Restaurants with bars were up 16.6 percent for the year through July. General retail stores were up 21 percent. Sporting goods retail shops were up 8.8 percent.

Businesses that sell building materials were up almost 13 percent after suffering through a particularly tough time during the recession.

Liquor stores continued to experience growth with revenue up 5 percent.

Don Edmonds, owner of Bristlecone Mountain Sports with his wife, Sue, said the store recorded "modest growth" both for the heart of summer and for the year overall. That was in line with expectations.

"We didn't expect anything earth-shattering," he said.

Bristlecone relocated from near downtown to Willits Town Center in February 2013. It was a move that paid off.

"In retrospect, it was absolutely necessary," Edmonds said.

Just down the street at Willits, Sure Thing restaurant owner Scott Picard said his sales are up almost 30 percent from last year. The economy is strong, people are energized and Sure Thing gets better known all the time for its burgers and other food. The consistency of the product is important to people, Picard said.

He expects continued growth with the opening of the Element hotel this fall.

The only blemish this year is finding enough employees, he said. Businesses are paying starting wages ranging from $11.55 to $17, he said.

"There's zero unemployment at Willits. We can't get employees," Picard said. The inability to find employees needs to be a focus of the community, he said. Much of the problem is tied to housing. Professionals cannot find affordable homes to buy. Workers cannot find affordable apartments to rent, Picard said.

Bennett, who does business on Midland Avenue in downtown, said another problem facing Basalt is lack of consistency. "The winter months are the brutal time," she said. There needs to be something more to draw people to Basalt between January and mid-June, Bennett said.

Waters said the opening of the hotel will help, as will Rocky Mountain Institute's relocation of its staff to its Innovation Center near downtown by year's end. The nonprofit, which is focused on energy efficiency and economic sustainability, also will draw its clients to the town.

Similar to Bennett, Waters said Basalt needs to work on sustainability — not only for the long-term but also for year round.

"You look at ways to keep it great," Waters said of the momentum of the summer.

scondon@aspentimes.com

SALES SIZZLE IN BASALT

Sales tax revenues through July 2015: $2,947,502

Sales tax revenues through July 2014: $2,690,217