Basalt’s retail sales surge 6 percent in 2017 thanks to new businesses, offices |

Basalt’s retail sales surge 6 percent in 2017 thanks to new businesses, offices

Whole Foods and City Market combine to provide a large share of the sales tax revenues collected in Basalt. So far this year, the town has collected nearly $1.5 million in revenues from retail food sales.
Aspen Times file


One of Basalt’s hotels changed hands at the end of last year but it’s unclear yet if that means changes are coming to the property.

The Aspenalt Lodge was sold by Colorado Aspenalt Lodge Inc. to Discovery Place Investments Ltd. for $4.25 million on Dec. 15, according to the Eagle County Assessor’s records.

Part of the hotel is located on the banks of the Fryingpan River while another building is part of the Basalt Center Circle commercial complex. Both the buyer and seller are well known Basalt names. The Szczelina family was the longtime owners of the hotel.

Basalt businessman Warwick Mowbray is the registered agent for the buyer, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s record. Mowbray also owns Fryingpan Anglers, one of the areas guiding businesses, as well as the Taylor Creek Cabins up the Fryingpan Valley and the Frying Pan River Lodge, a four-unit fishing lodge on the east side of Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street.

Mowbray hasn’t announced yet if any changes will be made at the Aspenalt.

The hotel last changed hands in September 1996 for $1,885,000, according to the assessor’s office records.

Basalt’s retail sales climbed 6.2 percent in 2017 over the prior year and the town’s sales tax collections soared past $5 million for the first time, according to a year-end report by the town finance department.

The sale tax generated $5.121 million in revenue in 2017 compared with $4.821 million the prior year. The town collects a 3 percent sales tax, with two thirds going to the general fund and one third going to parks, open space and trails.

The sales tax collections translate into sales of about $170 million for Basalt business in 2017 compared with about $160 million the year before.

General retail stores and restaurants with bars saw the most robust growth in 2017. Both sectors saw their sales tax soar 20 percent above 2016 levels.

Kris Mattera, executive director of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, said the local economy got a boost because several businesses opened or relocated to Basalt in 2017.

“Many of these businesses align with the sectors that saw the greatest growth, particularly general retail and restaurants with bars,” she said.

The chamber is in regular contact with business operators who are eager to get a toehold in Basalt.

“They see the opportunities that exist in the midvalley, opportunities that just aren’t possible in Aspen,” Mattera said. “These are owners who are already part of our community, who see that it makes good business sense to be in Basalt.”

The town also is reaping benefits from several businesses opening offices, Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County and Forum Phi among them.

“While there may not always be a direct sales tax benefit from new offices in Basalt, there is the indirect benefit from employees shopping and dining where they work,” Mattera said.

The town’s economy likely also benefited from national economic trends that carry over to the local level, Mattera said. Consumer confidence hit a 17-year high in 2017. That confidence typically leads to increased spending.

Retail food sales continued to be the bread and butter of Basalt’s economy. Grocery stores and other purveyors of retail food were up only 1.7 percent yet they generated the bulk of Basalt’s sales tax revenue. They accounted for nearly $2.2 million of sales tax revenue, or about 43 percent.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the sales tax report is encouraging because the growth in general retail shows that shoppers are interested in what Basalt has to offer for retail outlets.

“People are spending and they’re shopping here, not just online,” he said.

Like Mattera, he said local economic trends tend to mimic what is happening at the national level. Discretionary spending is up for many Americans. The general condition of the economy has encouraged more business openings, he said.

Sales by restaurants with bars were up 20.3 percent in 2017 over 2016. Restaurants that either opened in 2017 or had their first full year were Free Range Kitchen, Hacienda Jalisco, Mezzaluna Willits and Capitol Creek Brewery, Mattera noted.

Sales by general retail stores were up 20.9 percent, according to the town report. New or fully established businesses in 2017 included Bookbinders Basalt, Hangai Mountain Textiles, Four Mountain Sports at The Element, Love You More and DB Studio and Gallery.

Basalt lodges showed a gain of 3.6 percent in sales in 2017. While they may have been affected by the lack of snow earlier this winter, Basalt’s high season is in summer and numbers during those months were strong, Mattera said.

“There were more (lodging) businesses paying the tax compared to 2016, including the addition of Airbnb properties toward the end of the year,” she said. “The Element Hotel entered its second year in operations and as its awareness increases, so too will occupancy and revenue.”

Some areas of Basalt’s economy didn’t do as well as in 2016. Automotive businesses saw sales fall 2.4 percent, according to the town report. Restaurants without bars slumped nearly 10 percent. Sales by sporting good retailers were flat and liquor stores posted a nominal gain.

Sales tax revenue came in higher than anticipated in the 2017 town budget.

“It helps to stabilize the reserve,” Mahoney said.

The town’s annual goal is to set aside a reserve equal to 33 percent of the unrestricted general fund expenditures. There were some unexpected expenses in 2017 that ate into that reserve. Mahoney noted that the 2018 budget includes that 33 percent reserve.