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Recession-proof in Aspen?

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA morning crowd hits Aspen's Paradise Bakery on Friday in search of coffee, muffins and the like. Business at the bakery was up last year, despite the recession.
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ASPEN – Declining sales tax revenue is a monthly reality in recession-weary Aspen, but not every business in town is hurting. On the contrary.Business is actually up for some local enterprises, as budget-conscious consumers seek out affordability in a resort where over-the-top spending was once de rigeur.”I think the recession has helped us,” said Krista Eddy, co-owner of Grateful Deli with her husband, Joe Freeman. “In 2009, we had a really good year.”The couple purchased the tiny Main Street sandwich shop two-and-a-half years ago, gave it a new name and menu, and quickly drew a lunchtime crowd that stretches out the door during the summer months. With no seating inside, locals and tourists alike rub shoulders at the counter or on the front sidewalk, waiting for their order. The deli’s salads and sandwiches are priced between $6 and $8.”People are still going to have lunch,” Eddy said. “Now, I think they’re choosing to go somewhere less expensive.”Paradise Bakery & Caf, a downtown Aspen mainstay, braced for a drop in sales last year. Instead, receipts were up, according to JoAnna Quick, assistant manager.”They’re going for the smaller luxuries – comfort foods,” she reasoned.The bakery is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the wintertime, surviving essentially on a menu of muffins, cookies, bagels, croissants, ice cream and a few hot and cold beverages. Added just last week was a daily soup selection to boost its lunch appeal. Bring your own coffee cup in the morning and Paradise fills it for a buck; buy a breakfast item and the bakery fills the refill cup for free until noon.The coffee deal began before the economy went south, but it lures a steady stream of morning caffeine addicts.At Little Annie’s Eating House, a fixture on Aspen’s dining scene since 1972, general manager Ron Fleming dropped the price of a burger by $3 this winter, mainly to help locals who were just getting by.”That’s what carries Little Annie’s, is our locals,” he said.The moderately priced, sit-down restaurant has always enjoyed a following among Aspenites and visitors for lunch and dinner. Lately, said Fleming, a lot of families are dining at Little Annie’s.The restaurant appears to be drawing customers who aren’t as willing, or able, to drop a lot of money on a meal these days.”I think people are just a little more careful now,” Fleming said. “I think we’re well-positioned in the market.”And, the lure of affordability extends beyond dining out. Stylist Cory Barry at Susann’s Hair Cutting has watched the shop’s client base grow, mostly via word of mouth about its $25 haircut.”I hear that expressed a lot,” Barry said. “It’s 25 bucks? In Aspen?”The no-frills salon, tucked along an alleyway off Main Street, is off the beaten path, but customers are finding it.”I’m getting new clients who are looking for a better deal,” Barry said.The inexpensive niche hasn’t spelled booming business for everyone, though.Johnny McGuire’s Deli, a longtime local sandwich shop with a loyal following, saw sales dip 18 percent last year, according to owner Terrance McGuire. The deli’s generous sandwiches range from $6.50 to $12.50 for a foot-long “fatty,” but the local slump in the construction industry hurt. Construction crews were among the deli’s regulars, according to McGuire.He put the decline in perspective, though.”It’s actually better than I thought it would be, to tell the truth,” McGuire said.Affordable lodging, too, couldn’t overcome an economic downturn that spelled a 7.6 percent drop in skier visits last winter.Occupancy was down, and local lodges dropped their rates to remain competitive – a double whammy on the bottom line.Overall, the hotel and lodging business in Aspen was down 26 percent last year through the month of November, and the affordable St. Moritz Lodge did not buck that trend.Its lowest-priced accommodations, hostel-style rooms in which guests share a room and bath, actually took the biggest hit, said owner Michael Behrendt. Those beds typically appeal to young adults on a tight budget – people who simply couldn’t afford to come skiing when the economy tanked.The St. Moritz, though, is weathering the storm, and Behrendt expects the lodge to emerge with an expanded client base. Travelers looking to cut expenses are finding the St. Moritz for the first time, he said.”People who would not have shopped around before have found something they like,” he said.janet@aspentimes.com


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