The ides of March costly for Aspen businesses
With little or no money coming in but the demands of rent and other financial obligations, Aspen businesses reeling from a once-promising March turned disastrous are seeking relief amid a climate of temporary closures, layoffs and reduced employee hours.
“We are closing effectively (Sunday) because of A, the health of our employees and B, because of the financial health of our company. Nobody is in town,” said Lisa LeMay, area manager for O’bos Enterprises, an Edwards company that owns and operates Aspen T-Shirt Co. on the Hyman Avenue outdoor mall.
O’bos Enterprises also runs T-shirt shops in Snowmass, Beaver Creek and Vail and employs between 35 and 120 full-time workers, depending on the season, according to its website.
Those employees, including those in its administrative office, are all on hiatus.
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“We are going into complete shutdown, company wide,” LeMay said.
March is one of the biggest money-making months of the year for Aspen retailers. The city collected just over $2 million in sales tax revenue in March 2019; only December’s $2.5 million was higher last year.
Retailers also hauled in $268.4 million in sales in March 2019, up 7% from the previous March, according to city sales tax reports. Clothing stores, for example, brought in $6.9 million that month, following $6 million in February, $6.2 million in January, and $10.4 million in December 2018.
With retailers having similar expectations for this March, the fallout from coronavirus derailed those hopes. Aspen Skiing Co. has closed for the season, and Polis statewide has closed theaters, casinos and gyms, while limiting bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery service-only.
Aspen T-shirt company and an art gallery are located in a corner building at Hyman and Mill Street owned by David Silverstein of Chicago, who has waived their rent through May.
“They rely on March so much for business and then to be greeted with the mud season without any business,” he said.
Silverstein said he will revise the rent situation later in May.
“We want to help out and especially with the T-shirt shop because they have quite a bit of employees,” he said.
Nationally, Congress on Monday will consider a stimulus package totaling $2 trillion to help small businesses.
On Thursday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said federal disaster area designation for the state means small businesses among Colorado’s 64 counties can seek as much as $2 million as part of the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. To be eligible, small businesses must be impacted by COVID-19. (The Aspen Times incorrectly reported last week the SBA program applied to only the 15 counties Polis cited in his letter seeking assistance.)
“This critical designation allows small businesses in all 64 Colorado counties to seek federal recovery loans that can help them through this challenging time,” Polis said in a statement.
Polis also announced Friday he has suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days and stopped landlords from penalizing tenants with late fees through at least April 30.
The city of Aspen is a landlord itself, with tenants that include Aspen Public House in the Wheeler Opera House building, as well as nonprofit organizations at the Red Brick Center for the Arts. As of Friday, it had not decided on how it will be handling tenants during the health crisis.
“The City Manager’s Office will need to look at the circumstances of all of our leases and make an informed decision that is consistent and fair for all,” said Scott Miller, Public Works director and interim assistant city manager, in an email Friday. “Another consideration will be the economic assistance that is being promised at the state and federal levels. Because we don’t have all the information yet, we are not ready to make an informed decision.”
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Aspen residents, workers up and down the valley and area businesses could benefit from the city of Aspen’s recently passed $5 million emergency relief and economic stimulus package.