Taxable retail sales in the city of Aspen were flat in December, closing the books on 2018 that saw sales tax collections rise 3.8 percent from 2017.
December is the most lucrative month of the year for city sales tax coffers, according to city tax auditor Anthony Lewin, making up 14.7 percent of the year’s economic activity on an average basis going back to 2003.
Retailers and restaurants this year reported seemingly slower tourist traffic during the holiday season until the last few days before New Year’s Eve, when business picked up.
Though December retail sales were 0.1 percent down from last year, 2018’s collection totals reflect a six-year growth trend in revenue. Growth has been steady to robust since the recession-influenced 2012, which saw just under $11.1 million collected via the city of Aspen’s 2.1 percent sales tax. 2018 saw $15.9 million in collections.
Industries posting the largest monthly gains in December were miscellaneous, sports equipment and clothing and food and drug with 16.2 percent, 9.4 percent and 6.8 percent increases, respectively. Industries posting the largest monthly declines were automobile, marijuana, and accommodations with 45.4 percent, 4.5 percent, and 4.1 percent.
For the year, every retail category posted gains except for automobiles, which were down 3.8 percent. Accommodations, the largest sector, and restaurants and bars, were up 1.7 and 1.4 percent, respectively. Sports equipment and clothing was up 5.1 percent. Miscellaneous was up 24.3 percent, owing to recent changes in the law governing online sales that have led to more sites, including the behemoth Amazon, collecting and remit city sales taxes. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair continues to reverberate throughout the online retail industry, Lewin said, noting that the city’s agreement with Amazon took effect in January of 2018.
December’s lodging tax collections were down 2.5 percent from the same period last year. On a year‐to‐date basis, lodging tax collections are up 1 percent.
Aspen’s portion of Pitkin County’s sales tax collections (one month behind city collection statistics because they are collected at the state level) for November were up 12.9 percent. On a year‐to‐date basis through November, collections are up 5.9 percent.
Housing and Wheeler real estate transfer tax collections for January 2019, which are reported a month ahead of sales taxes, were up 25.2 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively.