Retailers sing praises of jazz fest |

Retailers sing praises of jazz fest

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Retail sales in Aspen jumped 7.4 percent in the month of June – an upswing apparently spurred in part by the return of Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Festival to town.

Many segments of the local economy logged increased sales activity in June, compared to the same month a year ago, but the biggest gain – 21.7 percent in tourist accommodations – may be a little inflated, according to several sources in the lodging industry.

“There’s no way overall lodging can be up that much,” said Warren Klug, owner of the Aspen Square Hotel. Business at the condominium hotel was about even with June 2002, though July is up a bit, he said.

“I expected it to be up, but not 21 percent. That’s huge,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency. He, too, questioned the big jump.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s June occupancy report, based on actual bookings at a sampling of 17 hotels, lodges and condo properties, put occupancy for June at 55 percent, compared to 54 percent for the same month last year.

Monthly comparisons of the city’s sales data, based on sales tax collections, can be skewed by reporting vagaries. If hotel properties were late to file their June sales taxes last year, but were on time this year, the increase in lodging sales would be artificially high.

Nonetheless, many local businesses apparently logged a strong June, and a number of merchants credited the four-day jazz fest, held in Rio Grande Park, for helping boost sales.

“The chamber and city should be putting an all-out effort to have it back next June. It was a definite plus,” said Steve DeGouveia, owner of Footloose and Fancy Things, a jewelry and gift shop.

Typically, the Food and Wine Magazine Classic brings the only big weekend in June for DeGouveia’s shop. He stayed open later in the evening during the jazz festival, held the third weekend in June, and it paid off, he said.

“We should be doing whatever possible to make that permanent,” he said.

“It certainly made a difference for us,” added the Aspen Square’s Klug. “I would love to see that come back again.”

Jazz Aspen, which was still without its usual venue in Snowmass Village in June due to golf course construction there, held the festival in Aspen for the first time in more than a decade. Over four days, about 9,300 people filled the seats in the tent at the park.

Snowmass resort officials have expressed a desire to have the June Fest back in their territory next year, but several Aspen merchants expressed hope that Aspen will lure it back.

“It’s a real no-brainer,” said Bill Dinsmoor, owner of the Main Street Bakery and Cafe. Overall, June business was down slightly at the restaurant, he said, but the jazz festival brought a boost in diners to his tables.

“We were definitely busier than I expected to be that weekend,” added David Fleisher, owner of Pitkin County Dry Goods. “Whether I can attribute it to Jazz Aspen Snowmass, I don’t know. I guess I’d have to.”

While tourist accommodations showed the biggest gain, according to the city’s sales figures, restaurant/bar business was up just 1.4 percent. Together, the two categories make up the largest segment of the economy, typically accounting for nearly half of overall sales.

Sports equipment/clothing was up 18.2 percent; clothing sales were up 12 percent; food and drug sales were up 3.4 percent; liquor store receipts were down 2.7 percent and utilities were off pace by nearly 10 percent. General retail sales were up 3.3 percent and specialty retail was down 7.5 percent.

Despite the gains in several sectors, a number of individual business operators indicated their June sales were about even with last year, or even a little down.

Columbine Shop, a jewelry store on the Hyman Avenue mall, posted “Going Out of Business Sale” signs in its windows this week after 30 years of doing business in Aspen.

Sales have been way down, said the manager there.

“I would love to know when it’s all going to end. There have been so many shops closing,” she said.

On the other hand, Kemo Sabe, a Western apparel shop, reported strong sales.

“We’re just having a great summer. We’re very happy with what’s going on,” said Nancy Yoder, who owns the store with her husband, Tom.

“June for us was excellent. Outstanding,” agreed Craig Hart, co-owner of the Genre Bistro, which opened last winter. “July was even better. July has been amazing.”

While June sales were up considerably from June 2002, receipts for the month are down compared to prior years, the city’s report notes.

June sales tax collections were off pace by 5.2 percent, compared to June 2000, and by 6.6 percent, compared to June 2001.

For the first half of this year, overall sales were down 1.5 percent, compared to the first six months of 2002, though activity in June helped narrow the gap. At the end of May, sales for the year were down about 3 percent for the year.

Overall sales through June totaled nearly $185.3 million; June sales alone totaled $29.2 million.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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