Glenwood Springs business owners hoping for holiday rebound post bridge closure
Bridge Celebration, holiday event friday
Downtown Glenwood Springs businesses invite residents and visitors to raise their glasses to the new Grand Avenue Bridge at the city-sponsored Holiday Lighting & Wine Walk, 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24.
This free, family-friendly event coincides with the annual lighting ceremony at the Hotel Colorado and will include a lighting of the new Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge.
There will be an ice carving demonstration, and several downtown businesses will be participating in a wine walk, with tastings of select wines, liquor, cider and non-alcoholic beverages.
Shops will also be open late as part of the festivities.
A 7.6 percent drop in Glenwood Springs retail sales for September wasn’t quite as big a dip as city officials had feared during the first full month of the Grand Avenue bridge closure and detour.
Still, it was just the tip of the iceberg for several smaller businesses around town that had to bear the brunt of the traffic impacts during the near-three-month stretch. The detour ran from Aug. 14, when the old bridge closed, until Nov. 7, when the new bridge opened 10 days ahead of schedule.
Collectively, retail sales activity in Glenwood was down nearly 7 percent in August, and similar numbers are expected for October.
But many small, mom-and-pop shops share stories of year-over-year sales being off by far more than that during the bridge closure.
“It was a tough time, for sure. Everybody from McDonald’s [at the southern edge of town] all the way to High Tails [in West Glenwood] was affected,” said Margie Crow, co-owner of Downtown Drug in the 800 block of Grand Avenue.
Though prescription customers remained loyal, a huge drop in walk-in traffic contributed to an overall 40 to 50 percent decline in business during the detour period, compared to last year, she said.
“We think we’ll come back, but once people change their habits it’s hard to get them to come back,” Crow said.
Book Train is located at bridge construction ground zero: the 700 block of Grand Avenue. Manager Carole O’Brien said her sales were off anywhere from 20 to 30 percent during that time. September alone was off 27 percent, she said.
“Contrary to rumors, we are not closing,” she said, in response to recent comments she’s heard. “It has been a struggle, and we have had to cut back on merchandise because of the slower sales flow.”
Even now, 700 block businesses are challenged by limited sidewalk space due to ongoing bridge-related construction.
“It just hasn’t looked very open down this way for several months,” O’Brien said. “We came through it, though, and things are slowly starting to come back.”
Book Train and other businesses are counting on a strong holiday season to help make up some of the difference.
The city will host a bridge celebration party, holiday lighting and wine-tasting party this Friday evening, in conjunction with the annual Hotel Colorado lighting, as a way to kick off the holiday shopping season.
Up the street a few blocks at Deja Brew coffee shop, co-owner Matthew Starbuck said his sales were down 21 percent from August through the first week of November, before the new bridge opened. September saw a 19 percent decline in business, he said.
“Our numbers are starting to come back to post-bridge levels, but I know others are in pretty bad shape,” Starbuck said.
“This might be the most important year to support local businesses during the holidays in particular, and really try to think about the little guy and what they went through,” he said.
During the detour, it was hard to convince commuters to jump out of the traffic line on Grand Avenue heading into the bridge detour for that afternoon cup of coffee, Starbuck said.
Like a lot of people, he said he adjusted his own shopping and errand-running habits during the detour.
“The downtown area was just tough, the way they had it set up with the detour,” he said.
Big John’s Ace Hardware on South Glen Avenue, located right at the northbound detour merge point, saw a dip in business during certain parts of the day during the bridge closure. Overall, though, owner John Lindsay said his business was actually up 2 percent during that stretch.
“That’s not near the increases we’ve seen in past years, but it’s something,” Lindsay said. “What changed for us were the buying habits and hours for our customers.”
After noticing a huge drop in sales after 4 p.m. when the major traffic backups hit, he made the decision to close at 6 p.m. instead of 7 for the remainder of the detour period.
Some customers did stay away, though.
“I had someone from New Castle come in the other day who said it was his first time in the store since the bridge closed,” Lindsay said. “We make most of our money from September through Christmas, so we are hoping that holiday business didn’t move away.”
City budget impact
September sales tax numbers for the city, though down 7.6 percent, were an indication that consumers still found a way to support Glenwood businesses during the bridge detour, city Finance Director Steve Boyd observed.
The city had projected sales losses in September and October in the range of 15 percent.
“The resilience of our retail owners and managers is incredible,” Boyd said. “It’s hurt some more than others of course, but in total I was ready for a much bigger drop in September from 2016 levels.”
From a city budget standpoint, “We were prepared to absorb a bigger decrease than this in our 2017 budget. All of our forecasts involved using some level of reserves in 2017 and 2018 to support services and city programs, but of course the stronger those account balances remain the better.”
To date through nine months, sales taxes for Glenwood Springs are down 1.1 percent. The city typically budgets for a 2 percent increase year over year.
In addition to general sales taxes being down for September, the city also saw a 1.6 percent drop in the special accommodations, or lodging tax. Year-to-date, though, the tax collected on overnight stays in Glenwood is up about 3.5 percent.
By category, general merchandise sales for September were down 9.4 percent; building materials and supplies were down 12.4 percent; food sales were down 14.5 percent; restaurants and bars were down 12.7 percent; miscellaneous retail was down 14.9 percent; and marijuana sales were down 13.7 percent.
Categories that saw increases were automobile sales, parts and servicing, up 12.8 percent, and business services, up nearly 38 percent.
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Garfield County is seeking to qualify its four west-end communities for Colorado’s Rural Jump Start program, providing tax breaks for new businesses.