“We go down to just a skeleton crew”
In a community where the number one economic generator is tourism, the times when tourists are few and far between are undeniably tough. Between mid-April and mid-May dozens of businesses close their doors to the public, posting signs that say, “Thanks for a great season,” or “See you in June”.
One business that currently has its doors shut is the LoBar sushi bar and restaurant.
LoBar co-owner Ben Diem says off-season is tough. “As a business owner, having business just stop because of where we live is frustrating,” he says.
Diem says he and co-owner Kyleena Graceffa decided to close the LoBar for about a month this spring after a rough off-season last year. “We stayed open last year for a good portion of off season and basically lost money,” he says.
One of the things that makes staying open tough, Diem says, is the ingredients used in making sushi. The sushi requires fresh fish that is flown in regularly. Diem says, “We need to sell it in two or three days. If we can’t bring in absolutely the best products we can’t make our sushi. And in off-season we just don’t sell it and have to throw it out. There’s not enough business in town to support this business during off-season.”
Diem says most of the staff is well aware that off-season means a break from work. “Everybody expects the off-season. I don’t think everyone appreciates it, but there are those who do leave for a while and come back and they don’t have to worry about finding a job. It’s just part of that lifestyle. But most of our staff would prefer to keep busy,” Diem says.
On the same block of Elk Avenue, at least one restaurant remains open during off-season, the Teocalli Tamale. Owner Davin Sjoberg says the restaurant is definitely affected by off-season, but he chooses to remain open to keep a top-notch staff. “When I first bought the place, the staff I seemed to attract lived here year-round. For me to just close down would be hard on them. “But now I have a staff that’s stayed with me for years. They always have a job,” he says.
Sjoberg says he’s also found a hungry local clientele. He says, “There are only a couple other restaurants open. People come to rely on Teo being open. Now I’m tied into that.”
However, Sjoberg says he still loses money in the off-season. “I would love to close and get rid of the staff, but I would rather take it out of my own coffers to stay open and keep the good crew.”
Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce director Christi Matthews says restaurants and retailers are hit the hardest during off-season, whereas some professional services like accounting businesses and massage therapists may have an easier time. Although at least half of the retail businesses close down during off-season, Matthews says those that stay open usually carry staples the locals rely on, such as liquor, clothing, or outdoor equipment.
Some retailers who stay open, like The Alpineer, Artisan Rug Gallery, and the Colorado Boarder, have found a unique year-round niche in online sales.
Colorado Boarder owner Dave White says during off-season, “Business is tough, especially on the mountain… To get all that money and then nothing.” But last year the Boarder started a website. “The whole reason we started the web business was because the off-season was so hard,” White says. The website now accounts for 40 percent of the store’s yearly revenue, White says.
White says during the off-season the store changes its merchandise from winter gear like snowboards and coats to summer stuff like skateboards and T-shirts. White says once the ski lifts close local kids get busy shoveling out the skate park, which serves as another saving grace during off-season. “The kids get excited,” he says.
Still, White has to make some staffing decisions when it comes to off-season. “We go down to just a skeleton crew,” he says.
Across the board, business owners say the spring off-season is harder than the fall off-season.
Sjoberg says, “The spring is worse. So many people leave town. In the fall there are a lot of people coming to town and getting psyched about the winter.” He says there are also more activities for people to do in the fall, such as mountain biking and hiking or just tuning up their skis. But in spring, “There’s really nothing for people to do, except go south.”
Matthews agrees the fall off-season is usually easier for businesses to handle. “Especially for so many of our businesses who are really making the majority of their money in June, July and August, and then using that to carry over. In the fall they still have a nice cushion, whereas in the spring, depending on how the winter went, a lot of them may be hurting,” she says.
Despite the tough hurdles of off-season, business owners agree that it does have some good qualities.
Diem says, “It gives us a chance to go in and make changes and improvements. Every off-season we spend a week just updating, trying new table arrangements, new decorations. Big projects we can’t do when we’re busy.”
White agrees, “It’s like hibernation. You can hibernate and relax and get everything back in order.”
And aside from business, Sjoberg says it’s nice just being in town during off-season. “You kind of get to see the town as it really is. You sense the community more. It’s narrowed down and you really get to know your local customers… It feels nice to have a relaxed pace and to be able to walk down the middle of the street at night and the only car you pass is a police officer.”