Summit County retail sales edging back to pre-Recession levels

The tax revenue figures for 2015 are slowly rolling in and Summit County is well on the road to economic recovery — and nearly back on par with the banner year of 2007.

Across Summit, towns have reported sales increases for nearly every industry, led by traditional high performers like lodging and dining, along with the brand-new marijuana sector and a noticeable uptick in construction activity.

“We certainly had one of our strongest winters ever, if not the strongest ever in terms of sales and lodging tax revenue,” said Chad Most, revenue specialist for the Town of Frisco. “That’s great for the town, but we try to keep it in perspective. It’s a credit to our business community and how they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities they have.”

Healthy tax revenues in Frisco and neighboring towns come despite a strange winter. Of 17 tax categories in Frisco, Most says only arts and crafts retailers showed a decline over the past year. The remaining categories enjoyed impressive gains, including tourism indicators like restaurants (up 20.6 percent) and vacation rentals (up nearly 16.8 percent).

“Tourism in particular was incredibly strong this winter,” Most said. “We occasionally tend to overestimate tourism and the impact it can have, but we had more people in town, staying for multiple days, and that tends to trickle down across town.”

The picture isn’t quite complete. With the exception of Breckenridge marijuana sales, towns have only collected tax data through the end of February this year. March data will be available by mid-May.

Once compiled, number crunchers across Summit expect the first-quarter data to give a snapshot of the entire ski season and, if a slight decline in springtime reservations at local lodges is an indication, the impacts of low snowfall immediately after the holidays.

Yet for some industries — think general retail like clothing and sporting goods — booming returns were actually bolstered by meager snowfall and balmy temperatures in January and February. The Outlets at Silverthorne saw revenue increase by 6.3 percent from 2014 to 2015 — not jaw dropping, but enough to generate roughly 25 percent of the town’s overall tax revenue.

“If the ski season is really good, people are skiing, not shopping,” said Donna Braun, finance director for the town of Silverthorne. “Last year’s ski season was really good and this year wasn’t quite on the same level, so the Outlets saw a year-to-date increase. It can be a major draw for tourists when they go on vacation.”

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