Holiday boom a bust in 1998
Locals’ suspicions that December’s holiday rush wasn’t as crazed as usual this season have proven to be correct.
A variety of reports show that fewer tourists visited town in December. Significantly lower numbers of skiers hit the slopes and even the number of power shoppers whirling through some stores declined.
The latest piece of the puzzle emerged Thursday when the city of Aspen’s finance department released a report that showed retail sales were down 2.2 percent in December compared to the prior year.
Sales of $48.93 million were recorded in December. That’s down about $1.1 million from sales of roughly $50 million in December 1997.
Tourist accommodations – the biggest sector of the economy – took a significant hit in December, according to the city’s report. Sales for the industry were down 9 percent to $13.36 million.
Other major sectors suffering through a worse December included clothing stores (down 5 percent), and sports equipment and clothing stores (down 5.9 percent).
Restaurants and bars managed to post a 6 percent gain in sales for December. General retail and specialty retail shops also fared well for the month.
Sales by general retail stores were up 9.4 percent while specialty retail shops recorded a 12 percent gain.
Individual businesses within those categories likely experienced better or worse numbers than the average.
The Aspen Skiing Co. had earlier estimated that its holiday business dropped by a percentage in the low teens. The privately held company doesn’t release exact figures.
Skico executives chalked the loss up to publicity about poor snow conditions. The loss was significant because holiday crowds account for a big piece of the entire season’s business.
It is doubtful that the company can make up the deficit, but officials were hoping the numbers wouldn’t sink any lower through the remainder of the season.
Hotel and lodge occupancy reports compiled by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association portray an equally bleak picture over the holiday period. Actual occupancy in participating properties was 87 percent for the week of Dec. 27 through Jan. 2. Occupancy was 95 percent for the similar week the prior year.
December’s poor showing couldn’t ruin an overall robust year for Aspen’s retail sales. For all of 1998, retail sales were up 3.7 percent compared to 1997, according to the finance department’s report.
Every industry reported at least a modest gain for the year except for clothing stores, which experienced a loss of less than 1 percent.
For the year, Aspen retail sales totaled $380,853,881.
That boom in business contributed more than anticipated to the city government’s coffers.
The city counted on collecting $6.33 million from its sales tax for the year. It actually collected $6.47 million, or an increase of 2.1 percent.
The sales tax that was collected last year was 4.1 percent more than that collected in 1997, according to the city’s report.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.