Sales down 6.2% in 2001 |

Sales down 6.2% in 2001

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With its December sales tallied, Aspen closed the books on a year of economic struggle that ended with retail sales down 6.2 percent.

Through the end of November, sales for 2001 were off the prior year’s pace by 5.8 percent, suggesting the resort slipped even further behind in December. On the other hand, several local businesses reported a strong December and definite signs of a rebound in January.

Business at the St. Regis Aspen was down slightly in December, compared to the same month the prior year, but was up about 5 percent in January, according to Richard McLennan, general manager of the luxury hotel.

“There’s no question that business has improved,” he said. “We went through a difficult fourth quarter last year, like everybody else did, but things are on the rebound.”

Overall retail sales for the month of December were down 8.8 percent, compared to December 2000, according to figures released Tuesday by the city’s finance office.

For the year, only a few sectors of the local economy posted gains over 2000. Sales activity in general lagged behind year 2000 totals for the first three quarters of last year, but dropped dramatically after Sept. 11.

“December was probably the worst in thirty years – I’ve got to be honest,” said Norma Dolle, longtime owner of the Snow Queen Lodge.

The seven-room lodge was empty at Christmastime – a first for the Snow Queen, Dolle said.

With January’s crush of visitors for the X Games and Gay Ski Week, however, business improved dramatically, Dolle added. “And February is looking really good. I just had three calls this morning,” she said on Monday.

Sales at Aspen Sports were down slightly in December, but were up a bit for January, compared to January 2001, reported manager Ron Morehead.

And for the Hub of Aspen bike shop and clothing retailer Distractions, last year was a good one despite a nationwide economic downturn. Both reported gains over the year 2000.

“There are some local businesses that are doing OK,” said Distractions owner Heidi Friedland.

Sales at the Hub set records in September, October, December and January, according to owner Charlie Tarver.

“The entire year of 2001 was a record year for the ninth year in a row,” he said.

December sales at the Hub were up 20 percent and January receipts were up about 30 percent, compared to the same month last year, Tarver said.

A decline in the resort’s overall sales of just 6.2 percent, in light of the difficult year, is a positive sign, he reasoned.

“That six percent – that’s phenomenally healthy given what happened in New York and to the national economy,” Tarver said.

Aspen also needs to recognize it is comparing 2001 totals to a record year in 2000, said Bill Powell, city finance director.

Overall taxable sales for 2000 totaled $400.9 million, compared to $376.1 million in 2001.

“I’m thrilled that there are some businesses that are up – that’s great news,” Powell said.

With a few exceptions, though, sales for the year 2001 ended down.

Tourist accommodations, which made up the largest segment of the local economy at 27 percent of total sales, were down 11 percent in 2001.

In December alone, the category was down 12.2 percent compared to the same month in 2000.

Restaurants/bars, the second-largest segment of the retail sector, showed a 5.6 percent drop in annual sales, compared to 2000. For the month of December, the category was down 2.9 percent compared to the same month in 2000.

Food and drug sales were down nearly 5 percent for the year; clothing stores receipts dropped 6.5 percent; specialty retail sales slipped 9.2 percent and sports equipment/clothing sales were down 5.5 percent.

Utilities and general retail, which each accounted for 7.7 percent of overall sales, both showed improvement over 2000. They were up 4.1 and 4.7 percent, respectively.

Liquor-store receipts were up almost 1 percent for the year; they made up 1.7 percent of overall sales.

Fur sales reported an 8.8 percent gain in 2001, but accounted for a tiny portion of overall sales activity, generating just .1 percent of Aspen’s taxable sales last year.

Year 2001 revenues from the city’s 1.7 percent sales tax were down 5.7 percent from the prior year. The city’s 2002 budget anticipates a 5 percent decline in sales-tax collections this year, compared to 2001, according to Powell.

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