Basalt retail sales fell 13 percent in 2009 |

Basalt retail sales fell 13 percent in 2009

BASALT – Basalt business and government leaders are glad to put a tough 2009 behind them.

Sales by Basalt businesses fell by about 13 percent in 2009 compared to the prior year, according to the town government’s latest sales tax report.

The town collected nearly $3.3 million in sales tax revenues during its fiscal year, which ran from December 2008 through November 2009. That was down from $3.8 million in 2008.

Basalt businesses didn’t start feeling the sting of the recession until this fiscal year started, by-and-large. The tough year ended with sales sagging 13 percent in November.

“We didn’t like the answer but we expected it,” said Town Manager Bill Kane.

The biggest shock in 2009 for town officials was the drop in sales by retail food establishments, which include City Market and Clark’s Market. Business in that sector was down 5.14 percent. Town officials thought the grocery stores were relatively immune to the recession since people still have to eat. There was a widespread belief that grocery stores would fare well in the recession as people ate at home more often and dined out less.

Sales in the retail food category fell to $1.37 million last year from $1.44 million the year before. That has a big effect on Basalt’s budget since the grocery stores account for about 40 percent of the town’s sales tax revenues.

Kane said the town “recalibrated” revenue expectations halfway through 2009 and made cuts to match the anticipated drop in revenues. The town is forecasting an additional 15 percent drop in total revenues this year.

Just about every major part of Basalt’s economy took a beating last year, the sales tax report shows. Sales by general retail businesses fell 27 percent. Restaurants with bars saw a 20 percent drop in business.

The town’s sales tax reports lump all businesses into a category. Individual retail stores and restaurants could have done better or worse than their category overall.

Sales of building materials fell 38 percent. The lodging sales tax dropped 39 percent.

The only major category that didn’t drop was retail liquor sales, which were flat compared to 2008.

Kane said the report for December will be “a tale of the tape” that will indicate whether Basalt’s economy started to bounce back.

“This Christmas felt a lot better,” he said.

City Market’s parking lot was frequently full, according to Kane, and shops and restaurants seemed to have a decent amount of customers.

Basalt Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Smith was also optimistic about prospects for 2010. At least a half-dozen new shops and restaurants opened, and there were additional expansions, she said. The chamber receives several inquiries per day from people interested in starting a business. Entrepreneurs are looking for opportunities.

“Overall, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think the business owners are feeling a little less anxiety,” Smith said. “I don’t think anyone believes the hard times will be over anytime soon, more that we are adjusting to the new economic reality.”

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