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Business can be trickier in the mountains

Cliff Thompson
Preston Utley/Vail DailyDominique Mohrman prepares a salad at Beano's Cabin in Beaver Creek. Mohrman has been an employee of Beano's since 1988 and also works at her husband's bike shop in Eagle-Vail.
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MINTURN ” Staffing a shop or restaurant in a mountain resort town, most businesspeople will tell you, isn’t easy.

There’s the pressure to make money while the snow falls and sun shines, and squeak through the off-seasons. That means you work lots of overtime during ski season and the holidays, and have time off to go to Moab and Mexico during dreary spring and fall mud seasons.

Then there’s the higher cost of living in the mountains, which regularly drives employees to quit for cheaper pastures. This coming-and-going means spending more money to train replacements a few times a year. Some estimate 20 percent or more of the population turns over each year.



So how does running a business here compare to running a business in a non-resort town, like Denver?

“It’s apples and oranges really,” said Andy Kaufman, owner of the Saloon in Minturn and a sister bar in Denver. “It really doesn’t compare directly. The demographics are just so different. Maybe that’s the surprise to us.”



Kaufman said he’s had a stable staff in Minturn, but acknowledged that’s not the norm. And Vail, he said, has some of the wealthiest people in the nation, and people visiting the resort are also willing to spend more freely than people in Denver.

“We are so tourism driven here,” he said. “In Denver the same buying decisions don’t apply.

“Here people are on vacation and are not so worried about spending,” he said. “In Denver there are a lot of young professionals just starting out and they go out for dinner and enjoy it, but it’s not so tourism-driven.”



Kaufman and his partners have run the Saloon in Minturn for two decades and last year opened a Minturn Saloon in lower downtown Denver’s Golden Triangle, just a block from the Gart Brothers sports castle on Broadway.

Another difference, Kaufman said, is there are no ‘seasons’ to Denver’s economy. But there are similarities. In both places, there are lot of new homes being built. Also, it’s just as tough to attract customers in Denver as it is in and around Vail, he said.

“You still have to win customers one by one,” he said.

Learning to compete

Over the last 20 years, there has been a change in the people who live in and visit Vail, Kaufman said.

“The population here has matured, and the growth of the valley has shifted to the west,” Kaufman said. “People don’t have to come to the eastern end of the county for restaurants and entertainment.”

He said he’s also seen fewer students on spring break compared to previous seasons.

“It’s a more expensive vacation than going to the beach,” he said.

The mountains also are more competitive than they used to be, Kaufman said.

“Just opening and being here isn’t enough,” he said. “You have to know how to compete and find your niche or you’re not going to make it. That’s the biggest change I see.”

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com.

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