Summit Canyon Mountaineering in Glenwood Springs was canceling orders and reducing inventory in preparation for the worst when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring.
Then, something unexpected happened heading into summer.
“We figured we would just be fighting for survival coming out of the lockdown, so we spent weeks slashing orders in preparation,” Summit owner Carl Moak said.
Suddenly, “it turned into a mad scramble to find products to meet the demand,” he said.
“After the lockdown, May was good but then June and July were just off the hook,” Moak said. “People wanted paddleboards, boating equipment, PFDs, hiking gear … by the middle of summer we couldn’t even get products because suppliers were out.”
Summit Canyon was one of the beneficiaries of an outdoor boom that emerged from peoples’ pent-up energy after the spring stay-at-home orders when the coronavirus took hold in Colorado and across the nation.
That boom is reflected as one bright spot in the otherwise rather gloomy just-released year-end sales tax numbers for 2020 in Glenwood Springs.
Though Glenwood saw a rebound in retail sales through the fourth quarter of the year, including the holiday shopping season, overall sales were down 5.28% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Most of that decline was in the tourism-related sectors, including restaurants and bars (down 20.2%), lodging (down 32.8%), food stores (down 6%) and health and recreation (down 27.4%).
“Our tourism-related tax revenues were down substantially in 2020,” Steve Boyd, chief operating officer for the city of Glenwood Springs, said of one of the biggest economic impacts of the pandemic.
However, several sectors were notably up — often mirroring national trends — such as sporting goods, liquor and, in Colorado and other states where it’s legal, marijuana.
“In general, businesses that sell lots of outdoor sporting or recreational equipment did well as a result of people engaging in more outdoor activities,” Boyd said. And, “from the beginning of the COVID pandemic we’ve seen building materials and supplies have strong sales.”
The city’s miscellaneous retail category, which is a bit of a catch-all that includes sporting goods, liquor stores, flower shops and the various boutique stores in the downtown core, was up more than 15.5% for the year.
Same was true for the city’s largest category, general merchandise stores (including Walmart and Target), which was up 5.2%.
Other strong sectors were building materials and supplies (up 13.2%) and marijuana (up 15.5%).
“Another reason for our recovery is the Colorado Sales and Use Tax System coming online, which makes it easier for online retailers to remit tax collections,” Boyd said of the ability to now collect local sales tax on Amazon and other online purchases.”
Moak said Summit ended the year about even with 2019.
“That was pretty good considering we were shut down for five weeks,” he said.
One business that had no supply problems and plenty of demand were the many second-hand stores in the area.
“We did better than we expected to, that’s for sure,” Rhonda Bell, manager at Defiance Thrift Store in Glenwood Springs, said.
“People were very generous with donations,” she said, adding the store probably had double the amount of donations as in a normal year.
Buyers were looking for everything from clothes and shoes to outdoor gear, and even things like used coolers, Bell said.
Tale of two towns
While retail sales activity was down overall in Glenwood Springs last year, neighboring Carbondale was a bit of an anomaly in Garfield County, recording a 7.6% increase in sales taxes for 2020 compared to 2019.
The only down month for the town was in January 2020 when sales taxes declined 2.1%. Even during the spring public health shutdowns in March, April and May, though, Carbondale saw sales increase 5.1%, 1.8% and 6.2%, respectively, for those three months.
As in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale’s tourism-related sectors did see declines, including lodging (down 14.8%) and restaurants/bars (down 16.3%).
Virtually every other sector in Carbondale was up, though, including general retail sales (up 15.1%), sporting goods (up 19.7%), the combined liquor/marijuana category (up 20.6%), retail food (up 15.1%) and construction/building materials (up 11.3%).