Report: Aspen retail economy held strong in February |

Report: Aspen retail economy held strong in February

Staff report
Guests of The Little Nell walk out of the hotel and are greeted by the concierges in downtown Aspen on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Business data from February showed an Aspen retail economy that produced $126 million in overall sales, topping January’s showing by $9 million and continuing an upward trend in the aftermath of dropped public health restrictions and a waning pandemic.

February’s sales totals blew away February 2021’s performance by 79.9%, while year-to-date sales of $243.8 million ran 83.1% ahead of the first two months of last year, according to the city of Aspen Finance Department’s monthly tax report issued last week.

Comparisons to early 2021, while misleading because of the public health restrictions placed on businesses then, “exaggerate just how robust the economy was churning,” Finance Director Pete Strecker wrote in the report. “That said, comparing to February 2020 (just prior to the impacts of COVID) and a more ‘normal or healthy’ economy, February 2022 is still reflecting growth of 38% over that timeframe two years prior.”

Twelve of the 14 retail industries from which the city collects sales taxes posted gains in February, ranging from a 14.9% increase from banks to a 163% rise in accommodations, according to the report. Only the automobile sector, down 2.1% in February sales, and construction, off 9.6%, showed sales decreases compared to February 2021. Strecker pointed out that the fashion business also enjoyed a boost due to the wealthy set of visitors.

This graph show how Aspen’s retail industries stacked up against one another in overall sales during February.
Graphic courtesy city of Aspen

“February 2022 data remains anchored by strong sales in accommodations (both in short‐term rental offerings and in traditional lodges) and a correspondingly strong month for restaurants and bars,” Strecker noted. “Additionally, the fashion sector of the local economy had a robust month as the more affluent tourist traffic during this period found what it was in search of. There were two sectors of the economy that did show some muted sales relative to the same period a year ago, those being construction and automobile; however, it is notable that construction had a historically high month in 2021 and therefore skews this comparison, and automobile sales continue to be hampered by supply chain challenges.”

Overall sales figures for Aspen’s retail economy topped $126 million in February, according to a city report released last week.

Through February, accommodations drew $86.1 million in taxable sales, which is 178.1% better than the first two months of 2021, according to the report. February alone accounted for $45.2 million of that total. The $12.5 million in taxable sales generated by short-term rentals of 30 days or fewer in February represented 28.1% of that haul, based on the report. The city currently has a freeze on new applications for STR licenses in 2022; that moratorium, which took effect in December, is scheduled to expire at the end of Sept. 30 while city leaders and officeholders work to regulate the industry.

Of the $243.8 million in overall taxable retail sales through February, the accommodations industry’s $86.1 million in sales account for more than one-third of that amount, according to a city report issued last week.

“While the December 8th moratorium that includes a prohibition on any new vacation rental permits remains in place, City staff continue to meet with industry stakeholders around short‐term rentals and the various areas of concern expressed by the Council for lodging segment,” Streckeer wrote. “The stakeholder feedback has been highly valuable to date and will help shape an ordinance for Council consideration in the next month and will add clarity to the future of this industry for the City of Aspen.”

February on average accounts for 10% of overall annual sales in Aspen, the report said.