Economy takes tiny upswing | AspenTimes.com

Economy takes tiny upswing

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

For the first time in more than a year, monthly retail sales in Aspen have gained rather than lost ground, compared to the same month the prior year.

May sales were up only slightly – .16 percent compared to May 2001 – but it was the first time since December 2000 that a month’s worth of retail sales were up instead of down.

A minuscule upswing in an off-season month may not mean a great deal, but it’s “delightful” to hear, said Hana Pevny, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Total sales for the first five months of the year are down 4.7 percent, according to the latest figures released by the city’s finance office, but May helped trim the deficit. Sales through April were down 5.2 percent.

Sales in most sectors of the economy are down for the year, compared to last year, but with May sales tallied, most aren’t down by as much as they were at the end of April.

Tourist accommodations, the single largest sector of the economy, did slip in May. The category is down 5.2 percent for the year; it was down 4.7 percent at the end of April.

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In May alone, the lodging business was down 16.8 percent, compared to the same month last year.

“That surprises me. Our business was up 58 percent for the month of May,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen-Snowmass. The local reservations agency books about 7 percent of the overall stays annually in Aspen and Snowmass.

The boost in business for Stay Aspen-Snowmass was not due to the merger of the Aspen and Snowmass reservations agencies, but reflects a jump in Aspen bookings, Tomcich added.

Restaurant/bar business was up 4.3 percent in May, compared to the same month last year. The category is down 1.7 percent for the year, through May, but it was down 2.3 percent at the end of April.

Most of the other large sectors of the retail economy showed similar gains – sales were up for the month of May, compared to May 2001 – and they whittled away at their year-to-date deficit.

Sports equipment and clothing sales are down 5.4 percent for the year, through May; clothing sales are down 10.4 percent; utilities are down 8.1 percent; general retail is down 2 percent; specialty retail is down 1.6 percent; food and drug sales are down 6.6 percent; and liquor store sales are down 1.7 percent.

But for the month of May alone, those sectors of the economy all posted some gain, compared to the same month a year ago.

Retail sales for the year, through May, total $160.9 million, according to the finance department report.

Though May sales are up, it is the slowest month of the year for Aspen, according to finance office figures, producing just 3.2 to 3.4 percent of the resort’s annual sales. Vagaries in reporting – such as a retailer who was on time with the sales tax filing this May, but was delinquent last year – could make the difference between an upswing versus a downturn, according to a finance official.

“It’s great that it was up – no one knows what that means,” Pevny said.

When sales tax collections for June through September are tallied, Aspen will be in a better position to assess its economy. “That will tell us something,” she said.

Still, Pevny said she senses things are picking up.

“My perception of the traffic that we’ve seen here, in our office, on the Web site and just the general traffic in town, makes me think it might be on the upswing,” she said.

Tomcich reported a strong start to the month of June, but said business tapered off for the last two weeks of the month.

June sales tax figures will be available early next month.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]

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