Vail Valley economy: Entertainment spending |

Vail Valley economy: Entertainment spending

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyVail Valley economy: Kevin Hewitt pours a smoothie for a customer in January while working at The Healthy Life in Edwards, Colorado. The Healthy Life had been offering a 50 percent off one item coupon to try to prop up business. However, The Healthy Life stores in Edwards and Eagle closed in mid-February.

VAIL, Colorado ” Jen Mason used to eat sushi at Nozawa in West Vail, Colorado a few times per week, but that changed when the economy tanked.

“We have now made a rule in our family that we can only eat out one night a week,” the 38-year-old Vail resident said.

Many people in the Vail Valley have been whittling their expenses down to bare necessities ” and that doesn’t always include, say, filet mignon at a local restaurant. While few people have holed up at home, most say they’re being more conservative with their entertainment spending.

This matters in Vail because so much of the local economy hinges on tourism. Although no one keeps statistics on how much revenue entertainment like concerts, eating out and movies generates for the valley, experts say it accounts for a large slice of our local revenue.

“Without seeing a percentage, I would say a majority of our business depends on entertainment,” said Lourdes Ferzacca, board president of the Vail Chamber and Business Association. “We’re very dependent on keeping most of the tourists happy and wanting to come back, whether it’s a concert or music or entertainment.”

Hundreds of people gathered in Vail Village on a recent Wednesday night to watch the first Street Beat concert of the ski season.

“I anticipate Street Beat being probably bigger this year than it has been in a long time ” if not ever ” because it is free,” said Diane Moudy, owner of Resort Entertainment in Edwards, the company that books Street Beat.

Free concerts could prove more popular then ever, but what about the entertainment people actually have to pay for?

At the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, big name shows like LeAnn Rimes continue to sell out, but the venue has seen a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in ticket sales for some of the more obscure dance and classical music acts, Vilar executive director Kris Sabel said.

Looking to next season, the Vilar plans to book fewer shows and avoid programs that typically fill only half the seats, Sabel said.

“Certainly as we look to next year we’re being more cautious,” he said. “We need to think about minimizing risk. I think it just means looking at the patterns we’re seeing this year. We’re just finishing nine shows in 10 days. I’m not going to book nine shows in a row next year.”

Vail nightclubs report no major problems. Samana has been collecting cover charges on fewer nights to combat a small dip in sales, talent buyer Peter Blick said. At The Sandbar, concerts have attracted the same or larger crowds than last year, possibly because the bar’s cheap, $5- to $20-ticket prices are appealing during a recession, manager Dick Dime said.

When it comes to Vail’s next major concert series, Spring Back to Vail, event promoters say they don’t expect the economy to put a damper on the caliber of talent or attendance.

“There’s a bigger hit happening in the smaller venue kind of things than in the big concert world,” Moudy said.

Faced with a drop in bookings, some hotels and restaurants have slashed their entertainment budgets, resulting in fewer guitarists and bands to entertain patrons, she said. Meanwhile, national acts touring through Colorado have been bracing for 30-percent lower tickets sales, Moudy said. She has been asking the bands to ramp up their marketing through MySpace promotion and e-mail blasts.

While the music scene has experienced mixed results, sales have held steady at the Riverwalk Theatre in Edwards and the Capitol Theatre in Eagle, owner Steve Lindstrom said.

“I wouldn’t say they’re (movies are) recession proof, but it’s still about the cheapest thing you can do to get out of the house,” he said. “The cost of a movie is probably the cost of a glass of wine around here.”

Speaking of which, Vail skiing instructor Gerard Winter, 26, has been planning his nights out around drink specials at the bars.

“I go to Mezzaluna for $2 beers. When that’s done, I’ll go to the Tap Room for $5 wings and beers,” he said. “I pick and choose which days I go out. It’s not when my friends are going out. It’s when I can afford to go out.”

Faced with slow sales, some local restaurants are trotting out the kind of specials usually reserved for the offseason.

For instance, La Tour in Vail offered 25 percent off entrees for the first two weeks in January.

“People right now, everyone’s looking to keep their money in their pocket,” said Ferzacca, who owns La Tour. “It really helps to know that if there’s a special, that’s where they’re going to go.”

Even though people are trying to “keep their money in their pocket,” entertainment still has a place in a bad economy. In fact, movie attendance in America spiked during the Great Depression, according to Robert F. Himmelberg’s 2001 book “The Great Depression and the New Deal.”

“Motion picture technology rapidly improved,” Himmelberg wrote. “The ‘talkies’ had replaced silent films in the 1930s, and attendance at the movies , helped by theater promotions such as ladies’ night and giveaways of consumer goods, rose remarkably during the depression decade.”

A desire to escape from reality could explain why entertainment remains popular during a recession. Moudy said music plays an important role in helping people cope with bleak times.

“Every day you turn on the news and see how horrible things are,” she said. “You need a break.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

Support Local Journalism