Sales continue to sizzle |

Sales continue to sizzle

Janet Urquhart

Aspen posted a second consecutive month of record retail sales in February – a gain that had the city’s finance director voicing a mix of optimism and sobering caution yesterday.

“I want to curb unbridled enthusiasm,” said Finance Director Paul Menter after releasing the city’s latest sales data, which put sales activity up nearly 13 percent over the same month last year.

The $44.7 million in total sales eclipsed the record February of 1998 and came on the heels of a record January when the city saw $45.3 million in total sales activity.

“It’s good news. It’s great news,” Menter said. “It doesn’t mean the economy is fixed.”

Virtually every segment of the local economy posted gains in February, though. Tourist accommodations were up 13.3 percent, and restaurant/bar business jumped 6.3 percent. Clothing stores and other shops all did well; the sports equipment/clothing category was up 22 percent, compared to the same month a year ago.

Business last year took a nose dive with the start of war in Iraq following President George Bush’s State of the Union address in late January.

This year, retail sales are up 15 percent, compared to the first two months of 2003.

In the 1990s, retail sales grew by an average annual rate of 6.8 percent per year between 1994 and 1998, before the economy stumbled, and sales either remained flat or dropped each year, Menter noted.

Had the upward trend the city enjoyed between 1994 and 1998 continued through to 2004, the city would have seen more than $560 million in additional sales, he said. But those sales didn’t take place.

The difference between sales during the month of February 1998 and February 2004, spread out over that six-year period, amounts to less than a 1 percent gain per year, Menter said.

A recently completed study by a pair of retail consultants, as well as an Economic Sustainability Report prepared in 2002, both identify issues that have hindered growth and vitality in Aspen, Menter pointed out.

“Two months of good sales tax doesn’t mean those issues are resolved,” he said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is