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Singing the mud season blues

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
HCBR

Whether or not they want to admit it, High Country business owners see a

slowdown in late April and May.

The common solution used to be simple: Shut down for six weeks and come



back when summer tourists begin to visit. Many restaurants and hotels

still do that, but as the shoulder season shortens, some business owners

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



have experimented with different ways to stay in the black during mud

season.

Two-for-one dinner specials seem to be the preferred choice for restaurant



owners. Locals clip coupons from the Summit and Vail dailies, taking the

opportunity to eat at restaurants they avoid during the winter because of

cost, or crowds.

“The off-season is better than it used to be,” said Bob Starekow, an owner

of Silverheels at the Ore House in Silverthorne and Incline Grill at

Copper Mountain. “The majority of high-quality restaurants can hang in

there because of local (support).”

But even with a local dollars, most restaurants don’t make a profit during

mud season.

“The cash flow doesn’t cover the loses,” Starekow said.

To make matters worse, most owners lease their spaces, which creates more

pressure to remain open simply to pay rent, he said.

Starekow’s secret to success, besides serving up excellent cuisine,

involves managing cash flow. He plans for the lean season, and he also

tries to retain his staff so he doesn’t run into higher training costs

when the ski season kicks in. Job attached unemployment helps too, because

it allows his seasonal staff to collect unemployment. Finally, he teaches

his staff to treat customers as if they’re guests walking into the staffs’

home, and that helps establish regular clientele.

Wishes Toy Store in Avon has developed that regular following. Though

owner Marti Hurd experiences a slowdown in business during the mud season,

it’s not as drastic as other businesses, she said. Residents and second

home owners make up approximately 70 percent of her customers.

“Our biggest thing is, we keep our prices local,” Hurd said. “Our prices

are the same as in Denver.”

The fact that her store is in Avon works to her advantage, because rent is

lower than in Vail or Beaver Creek.

“If I were in Beaver Creek or Vail, it would be different; I’d be just

like other stores. My prices would have to be higher,” she said.

Around the World Toys in Frisco relies mostly on visitors for its customer

base, so it makes approximately a third of what it normally does during

mud season. In high seasons, the crowds come on weekends, but in late

April and May, business is “almost nonexistent,” said floor manager

Heather Miles.

The owner has experimented with closing on Sundays during

mud season, or adjusting hours, but this year the toy store will remain

open during normal business hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’s able to keep

all of her employees because they all work part-time.

“Everybody has a slow season,” said Neal VanWieringen, a manager at

Recycle Sports in Frisco.

Recycle Sports slows in April when the large ski resorts close. Business

picks up in May when the bike trails clear. In order to retain its

employees, the shop “runs lean throughout the year,” with five employees

who work more than 40 hours during the winter, VanWieringen said.

Other businesses hire foreign workers with visas that expire after the ski

season. Roost Lodge in Vail is one; during mud season, occupancy

historically has dropped from 100 percent to 30 percent, said manager Juan

Fregoso, who has worked there for 11 years. This year, the lodge won’t

have to wrestle with mud season, because it’s closing, and new owners are

considering renting rooms out monthly to construction workers during the

slow season.

Finally, other businesses attract employees who want summers off, either

to travel or to work construction, rafting, sailing or other jobs.

Precision Ski and Golf in Frisco is one example. Its employees continue to

return every season because owner Jim Deines creates an atmosphere they

enjoy; the least amount of time one of his employees has worked there is

five years, he said.


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