“You have a very business-friendly council up here”
The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council literally got down to business in an hour-and-a-half work session prior to its February 2 meeting. The council hosted a summit with mountain business owners, designed for businesses to communicate with the town regarding the state of their operations, and to work out how the various entities might serve each other better and contribute to everyone’s success.
Participants commented on everything from the effectiveness of the Rural Transportation Authority ground and air programs to ideas for livening up the base area. Some of the businesses reported surprisingly good numbers to date, considering the decline in Mt. Crested Butte’s 2009 sales tax numbers, which are down 15 percent over 2008. Others said they are feeling the pain, big-time.
Gabe Martin, co-owner of the Colorado Freeskier, attended the session and had some good news to report. “We were up October (8 percent), November (4.2 percent), and December (15 percent),” over last year, Martin said. He attributed the healthy numbers in part to his Internet sales, which have been bolstering his business. Martin reported January was down 4 percent. “We’re looking for more consistency, and to get more tourists here,” Martin explained.
Regarding the RTA, Martin said the Crested Butte-to-Gunnison bus service was very helpful to his employees. “Three of my employees live in Gunnison and use the RTA bus on a regular basis,” said Martin. “We’re mostly growing with local business,” he added. “Not getting a lot of tourists… It’s either local or Internet,” for the most part.
Martin said being slopeside, the Adventure Center is right outside the shop. “The trampolines had a line all summer—I heard the trampoline is a lot of fun. The tubing hill is doing really well—my employees tried it and said it was fun.”
Django’s co-owner Chris Ladoulis took some time away from running the restaurant floor to hit the meeting. “My first thought is that I’m very happy we had the opportunity to open a business in Mt. Crested Butte,” said Ladoulis. He also gave the council a verbal pat on the back for the speed with which they get things done. Regarding the Adventure Park, Ladoulis said, “That was an empty space and I am glad to see something there. Every once in a while you’ll hear someone bitch about it. I’d rather hear them bitch about something that’s been done than not done.”
“We’re pleased with the direction of the town and our business this winter,” added Ladoulis. “We certainly benefit when there is more going on in the shoulder seasons.”
Speaking to the effectiveness of the RTA air program, Ladoulis said, “Clearly it’s a benefit. It’s a pain to get here—we hear that over and over from customers. It’s also part of the charm—it’s a Catch 22.”
Mt. Crested Butte Mayor William Buck asked Ladoulis, “How important would a direct flight in the summer be?”
Ladoulis responded, “I wouldn’t spend money on it. It’s the sheer seasonality of it. We do more business New Year’s Eve night than we did all November… How about a [direct] flight in September?”
Flatiron Sports co-owner Chris Osmundson said his business was having a hard time. “This January we were off 30 percent compared to last January,” he said. “We won’t be around very much longer if it continues like that. It’s not getting much easier in Mt. Crested Butte.”
“It is tough times, but I visit a lot of other ski resorts and they have some stuff going on,” said Osmundson. He said he would rather put more money into filling airline seats than a free RTA bus to Gunnison.
“People exit the base area up here relatively quickly” once the lifts close, he said. Osmundson believes it would be helpful if Crested Butte Mountain Resort would bring in more events and competitions, and if there were lights installed for night-riding at the tubing hill. “We would love to have those later sales when it’s worth it to stay open until 8 or 9,” he added. Osmundson concluded by telling the council, “You guys need us, and we need you.”
President of the Colorado Boarder Jake Parr said he didn’t hear about the meeting until Tuesday afternoon when he bumped into councilperson Andrew Gitin at the Gas Café. Parr wasn’t able to attend, but did have some things to say. Overall, Parr reported his numbers are down in the Crested Butte area 35 percent to 40 percent. At the Gunnison store, Parr said he’s seen a 70 percent decline since 2007. “Our numbers are down, and every year we buy less goods. We’re trying to shift more into the service side. We as retailers would like to see more volume, so we could do more retail [sales] and more rentals.”
To make the service side successful, Parr said they need more volume at the ski area. Period. And he believes things need to get cheaper before more people will come.
“CBMR is killing us because the whole message they’re trying to sell is a quality vacation versus a quantity vacation. What I think would change things is if we could get cheaper lift tickets, and add more value to somebody’s vacation. We need to lower our prices and make it affordable for the surrounding communities. It’s not like we’re this high-end, crazy Vail Resort.”
Roman Kolodziej of Black Tie Ski Rentals said the company was positioned for this economic environment, and that they’re up a little over last year. He emphasized that providing great service is key. “There are so many resorts competing for the same people,” said Kolodziej. “Follow through on the promise… win the guest over and get them to come back. Physically getting them here is the biggest challenge.”
Avalanche Restaurant owner Todd Barnes is in the midst of his first winter running a business at the base area. “I hope the next six to eight weeks are better than the last four to five weeks,” Barnes said. “I wouldn’t say I’m up, I’d say I’m holding my own. I seem to be able to make payroll and pay my rent.”
The Adventure Park is right outside the Avalanche’s door, and Barnes would like the see the ice rink stay open later and lights installed on the tubing hill, so that people have another reason to be at the base area once the lifts stop running.
“Why aren’t we letting people use it past 5 p.m.?” Barnes asked about the rink. “I’d go so far as to pay for the guy to stand out there.
“I like having a business on the mountain, and want to kick the sh** out of those guys down the valley,” Barnes closed. “I appreciate you guys just listening to us.”
Councilperson Mike Kube addressed the business owners at the conclusion of the work session. “You have a very business-friendly council up here—take advantage of that,” Kube said. “We’re willing to help.”