Last Friday night, we went out to eat at Fujiyama, one of the many popular restaurants downtown on Tejon Street. Given that Colorado College was playing a home hockey game, and various other entertainment options were available to start the weekend, we didn’t expect to see much in the way of crowds.
As we sat down for dinner, a little after 6:30 p.m., the business looked comparable to other eateries and bars in the vicinity — maybe half-full, decent numbers, nothing special.
By the time we were done, more than an hour later, the atmosphere had changed. Now the restaurant was practically full, with only a few empty tables (recently vacated), and a large crowd sat drinking and eating at the bar as well.
Yes, Fujiyama has a good reputation, but it’s not a dynasty by any means. So this crowd wasn’t just about the masses being magnetized for sushi. I noticed other places in the surrounding area also enjoying a successful night. And these weren’t retirees with money to burn. Most were in their 30s and 40s.
Then came Saturday morning and a shopping excursion. Well before the usual lunch hour, we arrived at University Village Colorado on North Nevada Avenue — along with literally thousands of others who had the same idea. The parking lots were jammed and the traffic was thick, not only for the clusters of eating establishments anchored by Hacienda Colorado on the north and BJ’s/Bonefish Grill/Chipotle on the south, but also for the retail and specialty businesses from Costco and Lowe’s to Trader Joe’s.
We decided to make just one stop, at Trader Joe’s, where shoppers packed the aisles and stockers raced to replenish the goods vanishing quickly from the shelves and refrigerated areas. After checking out, we found ourselves in a long, crawling line of cars slowly exiting the parking lot — with at least that many or more vehicles trying to take our places.
Granted, all of those were simply anecdotal experiences, yet they were supported by reports I heard later from others who were out shopping or eating in other areas of Colorado Springs, such as on North Academy Boulevard around and south of Chapel Hills, or out on Powers Boulevard in its busier areas, especially First and Main.
The crowds are abundant practically everywhere you go, from big-box retailers to theaters around the city and little shops everywhere.
I know a healthy business scene when I see one. And what I’m seeing is beyond encouraging.
Often in past years, January has been a time to cut back on spending, especially extraneous expenses. People are paying their Christmas and other holiday bills, so they don’t go out as much.
But apparently not in January 2015. Probably for a variety of reasons, many Colorado Springs consumers are feeling very comfortable with adding to the local economy.
You could guess the positive signs: Unemployment is down. People have jobs, even if they are capable of earning more. They also have more spending money than a year ago. They don’t mind shelling out the bucks or the plastic for that new computer, TV, camera or car. Obviously, gas prices have plummeted — a major factor, perhaps as much psychological as anything.
Add it all up, and you get a happy, healthy marketplace. Even with some forecasts still saying we’re “sluggish” and underachieving. Even with defense contractors concerned about the long term.
We won’t know for at least a month just how valid these positive observations actually are. The sales tax numbers will provide the answers, but those run behind real time. January tax collections will show up in the February report, which we won’t see until sometime in March. Heck, we still don’t know exactly how strong the holiday season was for the Colorado Springs metro area, though it certainly seemed normal.
Granted, the bottom-line results for January won’t rival the usual top-performing months in the summer, when tourism adds to the local impact. But maybe we should begin to wonder if all the grumbling we’ve heard in recent months about the Colorado Springs economy lagging well behind the northern Front Range cities might be starting to fade.
We should be watching every month now for those sales tax numbers that provide the best prognosis of the Pikes Peak region’s economy, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the news is encouraging — if not legitimately exciting.
Think about that: If we really are off to a strong start business-wise in 2015, as appears to be the case, the increasing efforts to enhance our workforce and help area manufacturing should add to that momentum.
It might not qualify as an economic boom just yet. But the sales tax numbers for the next few months should confirm whether we’re heading in the right direction.
Something tells me that we are.