Vail businesses ask what the neighbors think

VAIL — Members of the Vail Economic Advisory Council got some homework at the group’s June meeting — to find out what their neighbors and friends in the town’s business community were saying about the most recent ski season, as well as their guess about summer business.

That unscientific survey was one of the topics at the group’s July meeting — held Tuesday at The Antlers. Comments about the ski season weren’t much of a surprise.

“My neighbors said they had a flat to great ski season — nothing bad,” council member Rayla Kundolf, owner of Masters Gallery on Meadow Drive in Vail Village. That report was echoed by Laurie Mullen, co-owner of West Vail Liquor Mart.

But, Mullen added, she and her neighbors are seeing the fruits of the valley’s relatively recent emphasis on events as a way to bring guests to the valley.

Asked about a specific event, February’s Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships, Mullen said she and her neighbors noticed both increased business and a slightly different kind of customer.

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“It was a more upscale crowd — maybe the parents of the (participants),” Mullen said.

While events have become a big part of the valley’s business, Antlers General Manager Rob LeVine asked if any Lionshead-centered events might be on the horizon. Kundolf, who also volunteers on the town’s Commission on Special Events, said that group is working now on events in that area.

Still, events seem to help the entire upper Vail Valley.

“We were killing it in Beaver Creek last weekend, too,” said council member Brian Nolan, whose company owns restaurants in Lionshead and Beaver Creek. “That rising tide does lift all the boats.”

While winter’s audience is consistent, summer guests seem to vary depending on what event is in town on a given weekend. The USA Pro Cycling event in August, for instance, will probably bring a different kind of visitor than the Vail International Dance Festival.

What summer visitors do share is that many, if not most, come from the Front Range. Those people are sensitive to eastbound traffic on Interstate 70. Denver television showed big traffic backups on the interstate on both Saturday and Sunday of the Fourth of July weekend.

That sensitivity to road conditions has increased with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Twin Tunnels project just east of Idaho Springs.

While road-closing blasting and construction are suspended on weekends, the project does slow down eastbound traffic.

The Antlers last month started a program that allows people to check out late on Sunday, so guests can wait until early evening to start the trip home.

That delay will usually allow traffic to clear somewhat.

LeVine said the program has been more successful than expected.

The surprise, he said, is because previous promotions that give people a free stay on Sunday nights didn’t generate much excitement.

The apparent problem is that people don’t want to miss work or school, even if the Sunday stay is free.

“You’re speaking to guests,” council member Chris Romer said. “You’re giving people what they want.”

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