Big sale proving to be tough sell
Local merchants are more interested in seeing Aspen market itself effectively during the high season than in drumming up a bit of off-season sales activity.
That, at least, is what many among a dozen retailers told the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission Wednesday. The CCLC has floated the idea of marketing an off-season sales event in Aspen and perhaps suspending the city sales tax for the big sale to entice shoppers. Festival-style entertainment on the malls could be planned in conjunction with a coordinated sale weekend in town, according to the CCLC.
There does not appear, however, to be a groundswell of support for the idea among Aspen retailers.
“The response has been negative, so far,” admitted Jon Busch, commission chairman.
“The word `tacky’ came up more than once,” added member John Starr.
Retailers who gathered to discuss the idea with the commission yesterday were split on the merits of such a promotion, but generally agreed on one thing: A town that’s empty when it’s supposed to be full worries them more than slumping sales when the town is supposed to be empty.
“My feeling is that we have a larger problem with retail – that is, we should be having a good deal more sales during the season,” said Stephan Isberian, owner of Isberian Rug Co. “The problem is not to make up for the off-seasons, but to make up for what’s going on in the on-season. We should be putting our efforts toward promotion of the town during the season.”
Bike shop owner Charlie Tarver panned the sale idea, likening it to “pushing a rock uphill.”
Aspen Luggage Co. owner Galen Bright, too, called for concentrating the town’s marketing efforts on the high seasons.
“There’s a reason people don’t come here during the off-season. There’s no skiing, there’s no mountain biking – it’s the mud season,” he said.
“I would like to use the word `tacky,’ ” said Heather Isberian, urging the CCLC not to pursue any event that involves display of merchandise on the sidewalks.
“I would rather not see us open up Pandora’s box and find it rather difficult to close the lid when we don’t like what it looks like,” she said.
Others, though, praised the idea. Steve Degouveia, owner of Footloose and Fancy Things, voiced support for a sale event and lifting the sales tax.
But suspending the city sales tax would require a public vote, according to David Hurd, interim city finance director.
Such a move would only lift 2.2 percent in taxes, he added. The state and county taxes would still be collected.
“You’re talking very nominal, nominal dollars for most kinds of purchases,” he said.
The impact of lifting the city’s portion of the sales tax on retail sales would cost the city $20,000 to $30,000 over two days, Hurd estimated.
“Yeah, it’s only 2 percent, but I think the concept of it is worth more than the actual money,” Degouveia said.
“The buzz is what it’s all about,” Starr agreed.
The group also briefly discussed lobbying the city to put the tax proceeds toward some charity rather than seeking a public vote to suspend the city sales tax for a day or two.
Lisa Berenson, manager of Aspen T-Shirt Co. and ZG Tees, urged the commission to move forward with the idea. Vail, she said, holds a similar sale weekend in September that is very successful.
The event could attract people from the Front Range who might want to return for a high-season vacation, Berenson reasoned.
“Promoting that off-season can help the on-season also,” she said. “We need to get those people to fall in love with the town at a low-priced time so they’ll come back.”
Others suggested a sale be promoted in conjunction with an event that already draws people to Aspen, like Ruggerfest in September.
“To create something in October, starting from scratch, might be a little difficult,” said Bob Wade, owner of Ute Mountaineer.
In the end, CCLC members agreed they would help facilitate such an event if some other organizer steps forward to get it off the ground.
“I’m not hearing anything consistent that would give us enough backing to move ahead,” Busch said.
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