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Aspen hurting in January

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After a promising start to the ski season retail sales by Aspen businesses fell 3.6 per cent in January, a significant drop following a five per cent decline in sales the previous January.

A retail sales tax report is released by the City of Aspen each month.

While the overall picture was bad, the news was worse for specific sectors. Sales by hotels, lodges and other tourist accommodations fell 11.5 per cent. Revenues from eating and drinking establishments were down 6.2 per cent. Sports equipment and clothing stores saw sales drop by 3.6 per cent.

The only economic sectors that fared well in January were liquor stores, utilities and general retail stores, those selling hardware, interior design items, furniture and appliances. All three sectors rely as heavily on locals as tourists.

Aspen, and most Colorado resorts, started the season promisingly for the first time in three years. Early season snow helped push retail sales up in November. But the momentum stopped in December and disappeared in January.

The chairman of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors, Don Sheeley, told the Aspen Times the town has been relying on strong repeat business and has done little to attract new customers. As the repeat customers get older, they aren’t coming to town as often and some of them aren’t coming at all. As a result, Aspen’s business is slumping, according to Sheeley.

"Unless you keep replenishing the well, you’re going to drain it," he said.

However, Aspen voters approved a new tax last year which will produce new funds for marketing the town. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association will help decide how that money is spent.

Sheeley told The Times he doesn’t buy into arguments that Aspen has become too expensive.

"You spend more money at Disney with everything that Mickey and Goofy sell you," he said.

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