“We haven’t really seen a whole lot of business, but Christmas is usually pretty good”
When Noel Adam moved to Crested Butte in the 1970s, he wasn’t in it for the retail sales experience. He had a job teaching and a master’s degree in sculpture. But when the school closed the year he arrived, the brazing rods that had been used for binding sculptures went to make jewelry that he sold for survival.
“I found that I was only making about a dollar an hour in sculpture and I was able to buy groceries and things selling jewelry,” said Adam, who owns Zacchariah Zypp & Co., a basement boutique selling custom jewelry on Elk Avenue.
So as the tourist traffic slowed over the past year and some in the retail industry grew uneasy about seeing their inventory sitting on shelves, Adam did what he has done to stay afloat for the past 30 years: adapt.
“I’ve seen ups and downs. We had to let someone go yesterday and part of that decision was due to the economy. We were about 20 percent down for November and part of that was over Thanksgiving. We didn’t see as many people as we were hoping,” he said, looking to the Christmas season for a change of fortune.
And the gaze of retailers is set on that same spot, no matter where you look on Elk Avenue. For some, however, the holidays are already here and for others they’re just a week away.
Starting December 1, the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce kicked off its holiday shopping season with the start of the Butte Bucks promotion, which gives a 20 percent premium on cash for “bucks” that can be used at any of the 43 local retail shops and restaurants that are participating this year.
Betsy Heartfield, owner of the outdoor apparel retailer The Mountain Store, said the Thanksgiving season was something to be thankful for after the lull that preceded it, and promotions like Butte Bucks should help generate business.
“I’m hopeful because we had an all right Thanksgiving. Otherwise, it’s been really slow,” she said, adding that she hopes to see business pick up in December. “I think locals are trying to shop locally. Butte Bucks is a good thing, especially for the retailers who know that the money is being spent locally.”
Like others on Elk Avenue, Heartfield said she was able to decrease the amount of inventory that she purchased to fill the store shelves before the worst of the slowdown hit. But now that the word “recession” is being used, she’s not sure how shoppers are going to respond.
“I’ve only owned this store for the past year and a half so I think my clientele is really consistent, but I’ve never been through a dip like this before, so I don’t really know what they’re going to do,” she said.
John Daugherty, who sells jewelry, beads, fossils and rocks from his store, Nomadic Spirit, can count on his customers to do several things, one of which is to stay away in inclement weather.
During last year’s heavy snows, Daugherty saw a 15 percent drop in the amount of business being done at his store over years past and has seen only sporadic periods of recovery.
“The weather can cause huge fluctuations in the number of people that come in here. I definitely do higher sales volume in the summer time and it’s never really that busy this time of year, but even so it seems a little weak,” he said.
After reviewing the financial information from November, Daugherty said sales were down about 25 percent from a year ago.
Specialty retailers up and down Elk Avenue who aren’t selling everyday items are seeing the same kind of drop in sales.
Pete Basille has seen business slow at the Artisan Rug Gallery and said, “It’s definitely an economy thing. We haven’t really seen a whole lot of business, but Christmas is usually pretty good.”
Other stores, like The Alpineer, an outdoor outfitter at the Four-way Stop, sees business only get better when the snow starts to fly, because the inventory and services they offer are geared toward snow sports.
“I don’t think any of us know exactly how things are going to shake out, but it started snowing right on Thanksgiving so that was good. The way things are, we can’t sell anything without snow,” said Kris Huckins, a buyer and sales associate at The Alpineer.
According to Cookworks, Inc. owner Holly Hicks, the date that ushers in the Christmas shopping season is December 15, not the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, as is customary elsewhere in the country.
Despite seeing customers come and go consistently through her kitchenware shop in the summer months, Hicks says the good fortune of the Christmas season is always something to count on.
She said, “Until December 15, we’re just getting ready. It would be nice to see more traffic early on in the season, but we can always count on two strong weeks at Christmas.”
Keep in mind that the Chamber of Commerce distributes $20,000 in Butte Bucks and in the first day-and-a-half, they had doled out more than $7,000. If you want them…get them fast.
Next week we will talk with businesses in Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison to get a feel for how the early season is going before the