December hints at an upswing in Aspen |

December hints at an upswing in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Aspen’s first big month of the ski season may reflect signs of an economic upswing, once the numbers are in. Until then, anecdotal information suggests at least some businesses around town did well in December.

“Our December was actually great,” said Aidan Winn, general manager at The Cantina. “We had a really good December. I was pleasantly surprised.”

The restaurant appeared to draw both locals and a fair amount of tourist traffic for the month, capped by a $25 per person New Year’s Eve party that frequently filled its dining room and bar to capacity, as revelers wandered in and out during the evening, Winn said.

“I think everyone had a good month,” he added.

Bar and restaurant business within Aspen’s Little Nell hotel posted strong numbers for the month and the holidays, according to Sabato Sagaria, food and beverage director there.

“It was good to see the town busy and alive again,” he said.

Two seatings for New Year’s Eve dinner at Little Nell restaurant Montagna – one for $295 and one for $395 – both sold out. So did New Year’s events in the Terrace Room and Ajax Tavern, according to Sagaria.

Various retailers were equally pleased with December’s activity.

“I would say, compared to last year, it’s definitely up,” said Patricia Richards, owner of Bandana Aspen, a boutique that offers apparel for both women and children.

Her store’s move to a larger and more visible spot on Mill Street gets some of the credit for the boost, but Richards said she suspects her December numbers would have shown improvement over 2009 anyway.

Aspen’s Ute Mountaineer also moved to new quarters – in the Elks Building at Galena and Hyman – and owner Bob Wade suspects the new locale helped drive up sales at the outdoor gear and clothing shop.

He estimated the store’s receipts were up in the low double digits over December 2009.

“I definitely think town was just busier overall,” he said.

At longtime local clothing store Pitkin County Dry Goods, owner David Fleisher expected sales to be up a little bit, and they were.

Rain in town during the week leading up to Christmas helped drive people into the store, he said.

The precipitation fell as snow on the upper slopes, though, giving the resort a further boost, Wade suggested.

“I talked to a lot of people who said, ‘Wow, it was unexpectedly good up there,'” he said.

Courage b., a new shop at the corner of Mill and Hopkins that features its own line of women’s clothing and accessories, did well during its first holiday season in Aspen, said Nicolas Goureau, president of the family-owned chain of seven stores, based in New York.

The Aspen store opened about five weeks ago, in the pre-holiday lull, Goureau said.

“It was as if someone turned on the light, in a day,” he said.

Courage b. was open on Christmas Day, when many merchants chose to close, and had one of its biggest days of the holiday season, Goureau added. Opening the doors on New Year’s Day also proved profitable, he said.

Not everybody, however, posted an increase in December sales. Of Grape and Grain’s Gary Plumley said receipts at the liquor store were down from 2009.

How the resort fared overall is yet to be determined, as most of the usual barometers of Aspen’s holiday business have yet to yield results. The city’s retail sales report for the month, based on sales tax data that has yet to be compiled, won’t be released until early February. Sales in December 2009 totaled $65.1 million, making the month the single largest of the year for retail sales, accounting for 14.5 percent of the annual total.

An early season tally of skier numbers isn’t yet available from the Aspen Skiing Co., a spokesperson said Monday, and an overview of December activity at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport won’t be available until later this month. In 2009, total aircraft operations in December, including commercial flights and private jet traffic, was up 11.2 percent compared to 2008.

For December 2010, enplanements for United Express, the airport’s dominant carrier, totaled 15,845 – up from 13,530 in 2009, according to David Ulane, assistant director of aviation. Enplanements, or the number of people boarding a commercial flight, weren’t yet available from Frontier Airlines, he said.

Reservations on the books just before Christmas suggested Aspen/Snowmass would top 90 percent occupancy during the holidays and reach its peak on New Year’s Eve.

An occupancy report for the month is due out late this week or early next week, according to Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.

“It felt like we ended up doing just a little bit better than last year,” he said.

The one available indicator of just how busy Aspen was for the holidays, however, indicates the resort hit its peak on New Year’s Day.

On Jan. 1, Aspen’s wastewater treatment plant measured 1.99 million gallons of sewage coming into the system. Dividing that total by 98 – the standard assumed production of wastewater per person, per day, in gallons – produces a rough estimate of the number of people in town: 20,306. The town’s full-time population was last tallied at about 5,900 people.

Dec. 31 was the second busiest day of the holiday period, with 1.93 million gallons. That translates to 19,693 people.

Calculating holiday visitors based on wastewater flows is, admittedly, an inexact science. Not everyone who flushes during a 24-hour period is a tourist spending the night in Aspen, and the plant’s service area extends beyond the core of town.

However, in addition to New Year’s Eve day and New Year’s Day, the resort also topped the 19,000 mark on Dec. 21, and Dec. 28-30, according to its sewage output. On Christmas Day, the plant’s flow meter suggested there were 17,755 people in town.

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