Sales in August rise 5 percent |

Sales in August rise 5 percent

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Retail sales in Aspen were up 5 percent in August, capping a summer rebound that brought the resort’s sales activity back to even with last year’s pace.

Businesses posted gains for three straight months – June, July and August – wiping out losses earlier in the year, when impending war in Iraq squashed hopes of a turnaround in the local economy.

Through August, overall retail sales are up .2 percent over the same period last year, according to sales figures released Thursday by the city finance office.

Restaurants and bars logged a strong August, up 6.5 percent from the same month last year, while tourist accommodations were up .8 percent. Together, the two sectors make up nearly half of overall sales.

Clothing-store sales jumped a whopping 28 percent for the month of August, while sports equipment/clothing sales were up 9.7 percent.

General retail sales, including such items as hardware, paint and appliances, were up nearly 12 percent for the month, while speciality retail sales – gifts, books, antiques, luggage and the like – were down 3.3 percent.

Food and drug sales were up almost 4 percent, utilities were down 4.7 percent, and liquor store receipts were down 12 percent.

For the year so far, tourist accommodations are down 2 percent, compared to the first eight months of 2002, while restaurant/bar business is up 3.5 percent.

Sports equipment/clothing sales are lagging by .8 percent for the year, while general clothing sales are up 2.2 percent. General retail sales are down 10.4 percent, specialty retail sales are down 3.8 percent and food/drug sales are up 5.7 percent.

Sales in August totaled $38.3 million, based on sales tax collections. For the year, overall sales through August totaled $263.6 million.

A handful of local merchants termed their summer business good, but not great.

“I’d say it was fair,” said nightclub owner Bill Venezia, who runs both Shooter’s and The Lava Room. “For me, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t miserable.”

“July and August were good months,” reported Charles Wolf, owner of the Cooper Street Pier, a restaurant and bar. “We were up right along with the rest of the town. September wasn’t good.”

With the city poised to host a series of meetings between the business community and a consulting team that has been hired to analyze the resort’s retail environment, shop and restaurant owners have no shortage of opinions on Aspen’s economic fortunes.

Aspen must solve its access problem first, Wolf theorized. It’s too difficult and expensive to get here, he contends.

Hub of Aspen owner Charlie Tarver hopes Aspen doesn’t respond to a normal economic fluctuation with a knee-jerk reaction.

His bike shop has experienced a three-year decline in sales – it’s grossing what it was five years ago, he said. But five years ago, those kinds of receipts constituted a banner year and cause to celebrate.

“If you made money on those numbers on the way up, you should be able to make money on the way down,” Tarver said.

“I think an overreaction to a very normal situation would not be beneficial to our community,” he added. “Our core values and qualities – they’re still here.

“As usual, pray for snow.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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