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Vail Valley economy full of mixed signals

We live in uncertain times, friends. Is the tourism business up, down, sideways, or just muddled?

I don’t have any answers, but I’m hearing mixed messages like never before from folks in the local business community.

I was invited to a dinner for restaurant, bar and liquor store owners at the Sonnenalp earlier this week, hosted by Star Brand Imports, which distributes a number of delicious imported beers. The food, company and, yes, the beer, were all delightful.



I was seated next to some folks with Vail Village restaurants, who said their summer business has been pretty good this year, something I’ve heard from other business owners.

Then again, the father of one of my daughter’s friends told me his auto shop just had a pretty slow June, and he’s been seeing lots of empty campsites as he’s been riding his motorcycle this summer.



The lower traffic part is true. Traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnels in June was, on average, 1,200 cars per day lower than it was last year. And the Fourth of July weekend traffic was the fourth-lowest in the last five years.

But my personal attempts to find campsites in state parks ” I like access to a shower, OK? ” have come up empty.

The national slowdown may finally be hitting the high-end real estate market, too. While local real estate types have put a brave face on the current market ” it’s slow, but values are holding steady, they say ” a local broker recently e-mailed me a listing for a ranch in the McCoy area. The price on that spread has dropped $1.9 million over the last year or so.



So, despite those who say that the rich can afford to wait until they get their asking prices, there’s at least one owner of a trophy place who wants out badly enough to just make $1.7 million over his initial investment instead of $3.6 million.

The mixed messages haven’t just started this summer, either. While Vail was getting pounded with record snow last ski season, there was grumbling underneath the predominant whoops of joy that come with big powder and packed frontage roads.

One shop owner told me that if it wasn’t for the annual influx of rich tourists from Latin America, her Vail Village store would have been in real trouble.

Meanwhile, people keep telling me that their biggest problem, by far, is finding employees. That doesn’t sound like a stalled economy.

The mixed messages don’t look to get any more clear as fall approaches, either.

We always count on snow, of course, but what will sky-high oil prices do to airline travel? It’s a good guess we’ll see fewer commercial flights into the airport sooner than later, but will an extra $200, $400 or $600 in higher fares and fees keep well-heeled families from their Vail vacations?

People still drop thousands, on average, for a ski week in Vail or Beaver Creek. At what point do they say “enough?”

So far, Our Fair Valley has been holding its own in an economy that hasn’t been this wierd in a long, long time. Can we keep it up? If I had those answers, I’d be shopping for a bigger house and a newer motorcycle.

I think the bottom line for local business is keep your chins up, but fasten your seatbelts. This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller writes about valley business every Saturday. Reach him at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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