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Business booming for some in Aspen

John Colson
jcolson@aspentimes.com
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Aspen’s money tree, like the rest of the national economy, seems to have contracted some kind of fungal malaise but there are some branches of hope for local businesses who are sprouting despite the recession.

Sharing time in Aspen pays off

The rooms are currently 70 percent full at the Hyatt Grand Aspen Resort, and management is expecting that occupancy rate to climb through the remainder of the ski season.

Resort manager Vic Gianelli said the property was booked at about 86 percent for much of January.

Occupancy at a time share resort is not as critical as at a hotel because fractional ownership units are purchased in blocks of weeks far in advance of being used.

“We’re pretty much full right now,” said Mike Capozzoli, a sales representative for the Hyatt. “We’re in the OK-to-pretty-well category” of businesses weathering the economic downturn.

“We’re sold out [president’s weekend],” he said. “They’ve already bought and paid for it for the most part, so they’re going to come and use it.”

Capozzoli said none of the nine sales representatives have been laid off due to the economic downturn. Gianelli said he has not had to let go any of the 60 or so hotel workers he oversees.

Architecturally speaking

David Johnston, of David Johnston Architects in Aspen and Carbondale, said he is doing well enough despite the slump in the local construction market, at least partly because he has diversified his practice and is courting clients outside of Western Colorado.

“We weren’t completely stressed out, nor were we over employed,” when the local building boom began to slow down last fall, he said.

By early 2008, Johnston and his partner, Brian Beazley, had begun to think that the boom in second homes was about played out. It had been their bread and butter for some time, but given the scarcity of buildable land in the Roaring Fork Valley, the future was looking a little uncertain.

So he hired a long-range planner, Adam Roy, and the firm started looking for different kinds of projects and in a wider range of locations.

His firm is now looking at mixed-use projects, public-private endeavors and public sector projects, while continuing to design luxury homes as they come up, he said.

And with projects as far away as Seattle, Wash., the Cayman Islands, Durango and Grand Junction, he expects to have no trouble keeping his staff of eight people busy.

A slice of the pie

Most businesses who offer cheap eats are watching customers line up at the door and calling in regularly for delivery. Pizzerias are no exception.

Tasters Pizza, located in the Rio Grande Building next to the parking garage, business appears to be holding up, according to co-owner Katie Clapper.

“We’re doing pretty good,” she said, although she has not been open for a full year and can’t compare this year’s to past years’ performance.

But business “feels really consistent” as the season progresses, she said, with the dinner hour drawing more customers than at lunch time.

And, Clapper said, “I haven’t had to let anybody go. I actually had an ad in the paper last week,” looking for another employee.

Domino’s had been doing well until this month.

“We are down a bit,'” said Mark Campisi, owner of the pizza shop at the corner of Original Street and Cooper Avenue, noting that orders have fallen off “maybe 8 or 9 percent” in early February.

“Our first down week was actually last week,” he said on Feb. 11., explaining that from Christmas through the X Games he was doing at least as well as he had during the same time in 2007 and 2008.

But now “There’s nobody here. I mean, when you can leave town at 4 p.m. to drive downvalley and not run into traffic, that’s really a sign that town is probably empty,” Campisi said.

A sign of the health of his business is the fact that he has not had to let anyone go from his staff of 15, including delivery drivers.

“I guess there’s less overtime this year, said Campisi, adding he has had a full roster of employees for the first time since he took over the business in 1997.

“We haven’t seen a decline in tips at all,” he said, based on what his delivery drivers have told him.

Cashing in on consignment

At Susie’s Ltd., a consignment shop at 623 E. Hopkins in downtown Aspen, owner Susan Harvey had a similar report.

“We’ve been down in the fall, just a little bit … about 9 percent,” she said, but starting in January business has bounced back to about 10 percent better than the same time last year.

Although she had no hard data for February, she said, “I know we’re up,” both in the numbers of people bringing things in to be sold and the numbers of people coming in to buy them.

Harvey said she has 14 part-time employees and has not had to lay anyone off.

At the Thrift Shop, at the corner of Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue, business also is humming.

The nonprofit organization, staffed and run by volunteers, trades in used clothing, sporting gear, kitchenware and other goods, and uses the sales revenues to fund its philanthropic work in the valley.

Volunteer Zona Timroth said typically on Thursdays, the day she works, there is a line of customers at the door when it opens at 10 a.m.

“The Thrift shop is one place that is thriving,” she said. “Everyone else is tanking and here we are selling things for $3 and $4.”

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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