Sales soar in September for Aspen retailers, lodges

While a scarcity of housing for employees and a lack employees for employers has been dogging Aspen since the pandemic, the retail economy’s performance tells a story of ringing cash registers and increased revenue.

September’s $106.4 million in sales produced by Aspen retailers surpassed sales figures in the same month in 2019 by 66.7% and September 2020 by 18.3%, according to the city of Aspen Finance Department’s monthly sales tax consumption report issued Monday. The report covered both September and the first nine months of 2021, which saw $756.8 million in revenue, marking a 20% increase over the first three quarters of 2019 and a 29.5% improvement over the same period last year.

“Consistent with general business community sentiment, this month’s report caps off the robust economic activity for the summer period,” wrote city senior tax auditor Anthony Lewin in introductory remarks to the report. “It also assists in cushioning any possible downside risks that remain present due to the persistence of the pandemic and its impact on a return to ‘normal’ business operations.”

September was chock-full of events in the Aspen, including the Food & Wine Classic rescheduled from its normal June weekend, in addition to Aspen Ruggerfest, Aspen Filmfest, and Aspen Autumn Words. Snowmass Village also was busy playing host to Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, the Snowmass Balloon Festival and the Snowmass Wine Festival.

The hopping calendar boded well for the accommodations industry in September, a month where revenue of $27.1 million beat September 2019 by 75.9% and September 2020 by 65.6%, according to the report. The year’s first three quarters amounted to $183.5 million in taxable sales recorded by accommodations, down 2.6% from the same time period in 2019 but outpacing 2020’s first nine months by 28.1%, said the report.

Last September was also the first September in which the city tracked short-term rental progress through new monitoring software it implemented in late October 2020, when the city also introduced a code amendment requiring business licenses and vacation-rental permits for property owners who rent their homes or condos on a short-term basis. The city defines short-term rentals as 30 days or fewer.

As such, short-term rentals accounted for $9.7 million of taxable revenue generated in September accommodations revenue, more than one-third of the industry’s sales that month.

“This industry’s revival in its financial stance reflects both better enforcement of vacation rentals as well as higher average daily rate and increased bookings,” Lewin wrote. “Additionally, specific to the month of September, there was an immense increase in taxable lodging this year (up 76% from pre-pandemic 2019 levels) and is believed to be predominately due to the shift in the timing of the Food and Wine Classic.”

Here’s an industry breakdown of September sales in Aspen:

• Accommodations — $27.1 million, up 75.9% over September 2019 and 65.6% over September 2020

• Restaurants/bars — $17.1 million, up 61.7% over 2019 and 24.7% over 2020

• Sports equipment/clothing — $3.8 million, 57.6% over 2019 and 2.1% behind 2020

• Fashion clothing — $13.3 million, 154.1% over 2019 and 87.1% over 2020

• Construction — $11.1 million, 47.8% over 2019 and 18.8% better than 2020

• Food/drug — $6 million, 29.3% ahead of 2019 and 10.2% better than 2020

• Liquor — $1.1 million, 46.4% over 2019 and 18.5% lower than 2020

• Jewelry/gallery — $6.5 million, 119.1% over 2019 and 52.5% over 2020

• Utilities — $3.4 million, 12% ahead of 2019 and 11% ahead of 2020

• Automobile — $5.2 million, 295.7% ahead of 2019 and 54.2% ahead of 2020

• Marijuana — $859,099, 6.6% behind 2019 and 26.1% behind 2020

• Bank/finance — $605,328 (first year tracking)

• Health/beauty — $916,836 (first year tracking)

Total — $106.4 million, up 66.7% over 2019 and 18.3% ahead of 2020