Glenwood Springs economic boom, or post-Grand Avenue Bridge detour bump? | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood Springs economic boom, or post-Grand Avenue Bridge detour bump?

A pair of patrons walk by the downtown shops on a brisk Monday afternoon in Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Springs' overall economy, heading into the holiday season, continues to improve, at least according to the city's latest sales tax numbers.

However, as city officials and area business owners point out, while those statistics look great on paper, take them with a grain of salt.

According to the city's sales tax totals for the month of September, Glenwood raked in nearly $1.7 million on roughly $45.5 million in retail sales; a 13.5 percent increase from September 2017.

Keep in mind, though, the new Grand Avenue Bridge during September of last year was not open yet, a Highway 82 detour was in place, and subsequently numerous downtown business's bottom lines took a nose dive.

“I think things are going to continue to get better, particularly if we keep our downtown compelling so when folks do come, their experience is always good.”

— Erin Zalinski, Treadz owner

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"It affected us a lot, for the worse," Book Train Manager Rene Haff said.

Haff described how last year's bridge construction, particularly along a walkway outside of Book Train, led customers to often believe the store was closed, when in fact it was open. According to Haff, over a year later, business was still not quite back to normal.

The city's miscellaneous retail sales category, which includes a lot of the downtown shops, saw a 28.4 percent increase during September 2018, resulting in $34,561 more sales tax dollars than it did in September 2017 when the bridge was down.

That same category, though, compared with September 2016 — when the old Grand Avenue Bridge still stood — granted Glenwood just $1,939 more in September 2018.

"It is clear in September that having the bridge down significantly impacted retail, but it's a litter harder to determine whether the new bridge has had any direct impact on retail," Glenwood Springs Chief Operating Officer Steve Boyd said.

"Most of this growth can be attributed to price increases from inflation, though infrastructure improvements like this generally help an economy in the long run," Boyd said.

That's a sentiment the sales tax data echoed, as all of the city's sales tax categories combined generated $84,196 more in September 2018 than they did cumulatively in September 2016.

"Growing up, the son of a farmer, my dad always said, 'every year was the worst year ever,' but somehow we always still managed to buy shoes the next year," City Councilor Jonathan Godes said in reaction to the latest retail sales numbers.

"When you look at what downtown as a whole has done this year, up until August when there was no Grand Avenue Bridge going down, and when you look at what they have done in August and September [this year] and the things we are hearing about October, they are blowing 2016 out of the water," Godes said.

Compared to two years ago, 10 of the city's 15 sales tax categories were up in September of 2018, while five were down. However, with the exception of building materials and supplies, the five categories that were down, such as personal services often fluctuate greatly because of the lower amount of sales tax revenue they generate.

Personal services in September 2018 produced $8,935 worth of sales tax revenue, while building materials and supplies collected $209,206 in the same month of the same year. The largest category, general merchandise, which includes Walmart and Target, brought in $238,259, for the month.

"We want to see slow and consistent growth so our revenues keep pace with inflation, and right now I can't see anything to complain about," Boyd added.

Erin Zalinski, owner of Treadz shoes, clothing and accessories store on Grand Avenue, said that ahead of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, "Things have improved significantly this year compared with last year."

She added, "It was a little slower coming back than I had hoped, but I think things are going to continue to get better, particularly if we keep our downtown compelling so when folks do come, their experience is always good."

mabennett@postindependent.com