Romer: Charles Dickens was right
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
So begins Charles Dickens’s classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” The book was required reading for me during adolescence and it is safe to say the opening line probably went over my head at the time (in my defense, it probably goes over every 15-year-old’s head). The phrase suggests two opposite things occurring at the same time. How can that even be possible?
Charles Dickens wrote this in 1859 about the French Revolution which occurred in the 1700s. But he might as well have been writing about the future. It turns out the idea that “it is the best of times; it was the worst of times…” isn’t limited to being one of the best opening lines to any novel ever written but is also an apt description of the 2021-22 ski season in our mountain communities.
It was the best of times: record lodging occupancy in our resort cores; record sales tax collections across our communities; property values continuing to rise; continued success of service levels at the Eagle County Regional Airport; increased mental health resources; nonprofits working to address community challenges; and more.
It was the worst of times: workforce shortages across industries; a severe lack of attainable and available housing; limited early childhood opportunities; supply chain delays and resulting lack of inventory; lingering pandemic impacts; short-tempered guests and locals; and more.
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Vail Valley Partnership does a variety of research and outreach to understand the needs of our business community. We recently implemented a business sentiment study to better understand the confluence of seemingly contradictory reality between the traditional metrics (which are all doing remarkably well, aka the best of times) and the way our community is feeling (as challenging as it has been in recent memory, aka the worst of times).
The business sentiment study — to be conducted quarterly with the same sample set of businesses representing a variety of businesses throughout the county — shows that 78% of business operators are optimistic about their business and a similar number optimistic about the Eagle County economy, while at the same time 82% are concerned about attracting and retaining talent. The best of times, the worst of times.
Dickensian sentiment recently occurred when Vail Mountain announced an extension of the ski season an extra week with a new closing date of May 1. An extended ski season is often greeted with joy from the community and enthusiasm from the business community. After all, it’s an extra week not only to ski but a week that is not the dreaded off-season where revenue isn’t coming into our hospitality businesses at nearly the level it does when the ski lifts are operating. But — as noted earlier — this has been a hard season on our front-line workforce. As a result, the extra week to the season hasn’t been celebrated the way it might in a more normal year.
The simultaneous yet contradictory state of our community, where there are equal parts unease and fear on the one hand and optimism and idealism on the other, show that Charles Dickens was right 163 years ago when he said it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com.