Basalt keeps riding retail sales boom | Business

Basalt had its best first half of the year, ever, for sales tax collections in 2022, blowing by last year’s record pace by 18.2%, according to a recent report by the town government.

The town collected $4.71 million for the first half of its fiscal year, which covers December 2021 through May 2022. Last year it had collected just shy of $4 million over that same timeframe, and 2021 went on to set a record for sales tax revenues for the town. Barring an economic collapse, this year will eclipse the mark.

Basalt isn’t alone in its strong start to 2022. Aspen’s retail sales were up 49.6% through May compared to the first five months of 2021.

There is a caveat to the growth, noted Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. “A decent chunk of that is inflation,” he said.

The Denver-area Consumer Price Index was running at about 8.3% in May, Basalt Finance Director Christy Chicoine said in her sales tax report. While it is beneficial to have high sales tax revenues, the high inflation rate will also impact the expenditures in the budget, the report noted.

“Inflation has been steadily increasing, which will impact the cost of budgeted projects and will lower the value of the dollar for needed goods and services,” Chicoine wrote.

Even after accounting for inflation, the figures reflect strong economic performance for Basalt, Mahoney said. The summer months are traditionally the busiest of the year, so there is the potential to build off the solid number recorded through May.

“People are out and about,” Mahoney said. “I don’t think it’s any one [factor].”

Steve Humble, who owns Free Range Kitchen with his wife, Robin, said the first half of the year as well as the heart of the summer have been busy.

“We are having the busiest first half of the year we’ve ever had,” he said.

Some of that is likely due to the couple’s construction of a new restaurant facility at a highly visible site adjacent to a town park being built along the Roaring Fork River, a short distance from downtown. Humble said Free Range Kitchen is attracting new diners.

“I think the valley is busier than it’s ever been,” he said. “I think we’re seeing second and third homeowners more than we’ve been seeing them.”

At the previous site for the restaurant on Two Rivers Road, Humble said he and his staff would seat a rare table of diners coming downvalley from Aspen, either visitors or residents. Now, he is seating three to five tables of Aspen visitors or residents per night. He’s also seeing new business from people who have moved downvalley from Aspen, he said.

For December through May, restaurants with bars in Basalt have increased sales 18% over the same period the previous fiscal year, according to the town’s sales tax report. Restaurants without liquor sales are up 14.6%.

Meanwhile, Basalt’s grocers are also experiencing a solid year. Sales are up 5.2% from last year and on par with the record pace of 2020. The town has already collected $1.2 million in sales tax revenues from retail grocery sales alone.

The general retail category has been one of the strongest performers in Basalt this year, with growth of 26.5% over the same period in 2021. Sporting goods retailers were basically flat, at 1% growth compared to what was a record 2021.

“2021 was a crazy year, the biggest year ever,” said John Charters, co-owner and managing partner of Bristlecone Mountain Sports in Willits Town Center. While the store’s sales are up only slightly this year compared to last year, it’s meeting a high bar, he noted.

There was a well-documented rush into the great outdoors in 2020 and into 2021 as people sought new, safe activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sporting goods sales soared despite supply-side challenges.

Charters said Bristlecone couldn’t keep stand-up paddleboards in stock in summer 2021, in part because they were hard to get but also because whatever he had in stock was snatched up. This year, sales of SUPs and other hard goods have leveled off. Those sales have been offset by the availability of new clothing lines and the availability of hiking and other sports shoes, which were in short supply last year, he continued.

There are some headwinds appearing that make it difficult to foresee how the rest of the year will unfold, according to Charters: The national economy is slowing and there is increased competition — however, even with REI opening a new store in Glenwood Springs in July, Bristlecone experienced strong sales during the newcomer’s grand opening weekend.

Humble is hopeful that the strong year continues for the local economy. One of the biggest challenges for restaurants — and nearly every other employer — is staffing, he said.

Free Range Kitchen planned to open for lunch but delayed the plan due to a shortage of kitchen help. It’s open for dinner and Sunday brunch.

“That’s all we can do,” Humble said.

Nearly every major sector of the Basalt economy rolled through the first half of the year. In addition to restaurants and retailers, sales tax collections from automotive services were up 25.5%, lodging up 37.1% and building material suppliers up 7.3%. There was only one blemish in the first-half report: Retail liquor sales were down 2.2%.

If Basalt maintains its current pace, the town government will collect about $1 million more in sales taxes, Mahoney said, which will help close the funding gap on the town’s planned improvements to the Midland Avenue streetscape project.

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