Vail Village merchants tiring of construction
High Country Business Review
“Have you heard the new joke going around? Vail has a new town bird ” the crane,” said Robert Aikens, owner of Verbatim Booksellers.
Anyone driving past Vail on Interstate 70 can count close to a half-dozen of the big birds of burden lifting and turning in their lumbering, steel dance. However, the real burden may rest upon the shoulders of the town’s struggling small businesses.
Businesses like Verbatim Booksellers, Mountain Dog and Sunland Silver Gallery report having trouble getting customers in the store either because there’s no one in town or customers have a hard time navigating through the construction zone to get to the merchants’ front doors.
Although business owners have had to cut staffs, cut hours or even take on additional part-time work, many still sound upbeat and dedicated to sticking around for “Vail’s New Dawn.”
According to a few of the merchants of East Meadow Drive in Vail, the combination of construction delays, delayed hotel openings and public-works projects have added up to few customers and revenues down 20 percent to 90 percent compared with a typical May and June. New hotels such as the Vail Plaza Hotel and Four Seasons are experiencing construction delays and are behind schedule. So, merchants counting on those new hotels to bring more visitors to Vail continue to be disappointed as they hear about delay after delay.
Thankfully, said Aikens, One Willow Bridge Road ” a large condominium project near his shop ” is expected to open soon. With fewer locals visiting Vail Village because of the construction, Aikens estimated that 90 percent of his customers are tourists and second-home owners, so he is anxious to see the new hotels open. However, as the delays mount, he gets more worried about how long his store can survive.
For Nancy Kosloff, owner of Mountain Dog, the construction delays have meant days and weeks of torn-up streets accompanied by unbearable levels of dust and noise.
The noise of passing trucks makes it difficult for her to even speak on the phone as evidenced one recent morning when she was interviewed for this story and had to hold on the line to wait for a truck to pass. At one point, she said, her store was barely reachable because of construction, and to add insult to injury, all work on the project came to a halt for about two weeks.
For Marty Stewart, who with his wife owns and runs Sunland Silver Gallery, the construction has meant slow sales and complaining customers. He said he and other merchants hear customers say regularly that had they known about all the construction, noise and dirt, they would have gone somewhere else for their vacation.
Stewart, who typically has his greatest single month for revenue in July, said he is hoping that visitors will keep coming to Vail this summer and that word of the construction will not discourage visitors from coming. Nevertheless, Stewart has had to take on a part-time job for extra income and benefits. He drives a bus for Eagle County’s Eco Transit to help make ends meet.
What could be done to help? Several Vail merchants agreed that more could be done, but disagree about what specific steps the town could take.
Kosloff said the actions of Vail’s town government have made many merchants feel as if the town is unconcerned whether small businesses survive or not. Aikens said he would like to see some tax breaks for local small business owners as well as incentives to attract more construction workers to the area so projects can be finished more quickly.
Once the current construction is finished, Aikens said he would like to see a moratorium on new building and redevelopment for a couple of years so Vail merchants can get back on their feet.
Stewart said at this point there is nothing that the town could do in the way of incentives or tax breaks that would make any major difference to whether he remains in business or not. However, he sees merit in getting all the redevelopment done at once and done quickly because if it is dragged out over 15 years, few merchants would survive.
Above all, the small business owners agreed that once the construction is complete and the hotels open, Vail will once again be the place to be.
“Vail will rock,” said Aikens. In the meantime, the local businesses are doing what they can to survive.
At Verbatim, Aikens has volunteers who work for him to help cut costs, and he has some visits from prominent authors scheduled to attract more customers to his store. He is also in a smaller space, having scaled down from 4,000 square feet to 500.
Kosloff said she will be having more sales on her merchandise to try to bring more traffic to her store. She has no staff to cut, so she can be found behind the counter at Mountain Dog seven days a week. Stewart and his wife do not have any staff either, so on slow days they close their shop.
“When the construction is all done,” said Stewart, “Vail will be paradise.” And, he says, he’s committed to waiting as long as it takes.