March sales up 14 percent |

March sales up 14 percent

Janet Urquhart

Aspen’s retail sales were up nearly 14 percent in March, closing a first quarter that outpaced the first three months of 2004 by 7.5 percent.

Every sector of the retail economy posted gains in March, compared to the same month a year ago, according to figures released today by the city finance office.

Tourist accommodations were up 12.6 percent and restaurant/bar sales were up about 9 percent for the month. Together, the two categories made up slightly more than half of total retail sales in the first quarter.

The city’s sales tax collections were tracking 6.6 percent ahead of budget projections through March and lodging tax collections, which support both resort marketing and Aspen’s in-town bus system, were about 15 percent ahead of the budgeted target at the close of the first quarter, according to Paul Menter, city finance director.

“Both March sales and lodging tax collections considerably exceeded the increase in the CPI (Consumer Price Index) in March and appear to reflect very healthy increases in sales compared to prior years, as well as providing a strong indicator of the national as well as local economy recovery,” Menter said in his sales tax report.

Among other large sectors of the retail economy, clothing store sales were up 28 percent in March, compared to the same month in 2004, and sports equipment/clothing sales were up 11 percent.

Utilities were up nearly 12 percent; general retail, including such items as hardware and appliances, was up 23.3 percent; and specialty retail, including gifts, books, antiques, luggage and the like, was up 12 percent. Food and drug sales were up almost 7 percent.

March sales totaled $58.8 million and overall sales for the first quarter totaled $152.4 million.

The strong showing in March follows a 4.2 percent gain in February and a 3.3 percent increase in January.

In addition to sales tax revenues, the city is seeing large gains in proceeds from a pair of real estate transfer taxes; one is dedicated to the Wheeler Opera House and the other funds the worker housing program. Both RETTs are posting record revenues, according to Menter, thanks to a booming real estate market. Through April, both RETTs are up more than 50 percent, compared to the same period a year ago.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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