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Sagging town aims to boost business

Matt Zalaznick

While some merchants report booming business this summer and others are seeing serious slumps, a financial sinkhole has opened under Town Hall, leaving the municipal government approximately $700,000 short for 2002.

The budget crisis threatens the town’s free bus system and could even cause an increase in fees at Avon’s busy recreation center. So the town, scrambling to boost revenues, is looking for help from merchants in its efforts to increase cash flow in the land of the roundabouts.

“Business was down a little in winter, mostly because winter got off to a weak start,” says Bob Borg, who heads the Avon Business Association. “It kind of bounced back in January, February and March, but then, I think, the forest fires definitely affected the plans of people who would have otherwise come to the valley.”

There will be a town hall meeting – scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Avon Town Hall Council Chambers – is meant to bring town leaders and merchants together to discuss ways to stimulate the gateway to Beaver Creek’s sluggish economy.

“It think it’s a good thing,” says Mark Weinreich, co-owner of Venture Sports. “Hopefully the merchants can collectively get together so we can speak as one voice.

“Obviously,” he adds, “everybody has different opinions, but hopefully we can get a general consensus because most business owners are not voters in the town, though we certainly collect a lot of sales tax.”

Business at his shop –which sells and rents recreation equipment, sporting goods and other outdoor gear – has been a roller coaster this summer, Weinreich says.

“Business has definitely had its ups and downs,” he says. “I can’t put my finger on it, if it’s the economy or the roadwork or what. I’m looking forward to a good winter. Hopefully, this last week of rain is a sign of things to come.”

Beaver Liquors co-owner David Courtney says his store has been busy all summer and sales are up 20 percent compared to last year.

“We cross our fingers every month,” Courtney says. “We’re excited. When we’re up and everybody else is down, that means we’re doing something right.

“I’m sure this September is going to be better than last September,” Courtney adds.

But he’s not so sure how Wednesday’s town hall meeting will help business, Courtney says.

“My idea of economic development is getting on the phone and cultivating more customers, getting people to buy more wine from me,” says Courtney, whose commercials run frequently on local television. “I’d much rather spend my time getting more people into the store.”

The town’s own plans for increasing tax revenues have so far been controversial and unpopular.

Avon’s first plan was to start charging $1 fares on its ailing free bus system. But that idea was scuttled when the local tourism industry revolted, saying free bus transportation was a major attraction that lured visitors to Avon.

Its second tax-boosting plan –assessing a 4 percent on all building materials used in Avon, regardless of where they’re purchased –was placed on the November ballot despite intense opposition from builders and contractors. The money from the “use tax” will go to the bus system and the recreation center.

But even if both plans had been put in the place, town leaders fear Avon could still be short on funds, threatening basic city services like police and snow-plowing.

“The town has been faced with stabilizing revenue and budget cuts,” Town Manager Bill Efting says. “We are looking to our business leaders to give us ideas on how to improve our vitality.”

Courtney says he thinks the same people visited Avon and Beaver Creek that visit every year, but they may have spent less money eating out.

“People still came, but I think they made the decision not to go out five nights a week to a restaurant. They went out two nights a week and eat in the other nights,” Courtney says. “People that have money are not going to stop doing luxury things, they’re just going to cut back.”

But Borg says he thinks the merchants can help the town figure out how to stimulate its economy.

“Hopefully we can make some valid contributions to their search for income generating ideas,” Borg says.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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