Hotel Denver and Glenwood Canyon Brewpub co-owner April Carver recalls a discussion with city finance officials not long ago about the precipitous drop in general merchandise retail sales in Glenwood Springs since the 2008 recession, and the fact that those sales haven’t rebounded the way other sales categories have.
Especially with so many consumers now making their purchases of goods online rather than at retail stores, the thought was, “Well, let’s give them something they can’t buy on the Internet,” Carver said.
That conversation ultimately led to a $1 million investment spearheaded by the Downtown Development Authority to improve some of the public areas in downtown, including a sidewalk expansion along Glenwood’s so-called restaurant row on Seventh Street.
The additional space on Seventh and around the corner next to the 711 Grand Ave. building, where one of the downtown alleys is being renovated into a pedestrian plaza and walkway, will bring outdoor patio dining to several restaurants, both new and established, through a lease agreement with the city.
The idea is to create a sort of economic stimulus for a sector of business that already serves as a backbone of Glenwood Springs’ tourist-based economy — eating out.
“You guys are building your golden goose,” Brewpub co-owner Jim Carver of Durango (no relation to April Carver) said during a recent interview about the Brewpub’s nearly completed renovation project, which ties in with the new outdoor dining space that is expected to hit Seventh Street in early June.
General merchandise stores continue to be Glenwood Springs’ largest single retail category, bringing in close to $2.9 million per year in city sales taxes and representing about $78 million in total sales annually.
However, that number has been steadily falling in the years following the national economic recession, from a high of about $90 million in annual merchandise sales in 2007 and 2008, and more than $3.3 million in sales taxes, according to figures based on the city’s 3.7 percent sales tax rate.
Though still a distant second as a sales tax generator for the city, eating and drinking establishments brought in slightly more than $1.9 million in sales taxes last year, reflecting about $51.5 million spent at restaurants and bars.
Unlike the drop in merchandise sales, and while restaurants also took a hit during and after the recession, restaurant sales have bounced back to about where they were six years ago.
Spending at restaurants and bars in Glenwood Springs was up 2.2 percent in 2013 from the previous year. Sales in that category are also up about 1.7 percent so far this year.
Glenwood’s slice of pie
In Colorado, restaurants are expected to generate approximately $681 million in state and local sales taxes this year alone, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association.
The CRA also says Colorado consumers will spend nearly $27 million per day eating out. And, when “out” means visiting places like Glenwood Springs from the Front Range, that money gets spent here.
In turn, that spending has a multiplier affect for tourist towns, and the more restaurant options there are the more people are likely to spend money in other ways, said real estate investor Andy Niemeyer.
“Tourism is a huge piece of Glenwood Springs’ economy, and having quality restaurants is a big part of drawing people to town,” said Niemeyer, who with fellow Boulder investor Mark Licata bought the rundown 711 Grand building to turn it into space for two new restaurants.
The Lost Cajun, which took up part of that space, is already open and enjoying a bustling business, while Basalt-based Smoke Modern Barbecue is busy completing work in the other part of the building, which will serve as its second location. Opening of that restaurant is expected later this summer, Niemeyer said.
“Restaurants are a critical element of having a vibrant commercial area,” he said. “People still come to shop or for entertainment, and they need to be fed. Having quality restaurants is key to everything that happening economically in downtown Glenwood.”
The new building owners also partnered with the city and the DDA to help pay for the alley improvements, which will feature decorative pavers, outdoor furniture, ornamental lighting and planters.
While the Seventh Street work is essentially complete, it will be a few more weeks before the alley work is complete, said DDA Executive Director Leslie Bethel.
“It’s another example of how public improvements stimulate business investment for economic development,” Bethel said. “We’re able to tackle this project from concept to completion thanks to municipal and private cooperation, and the partnerships that are fundamental to our mission.”
Other DDA projects in various stages of being completed and that are part of the organization’s “Vision Glenwood” plan include new landscaping around the Cooper Avenue parking garage, and the reconfiguration of the lot south of the Glenwood Springs Fire Station at Cooper Avenue and Eighth Street.
“Let’s give them something they can’t buy on the Internet.”
Glenwood Canyon Brewpub co-owner