Granby rides out recession
Grand County, CO Colorado
GRANBY – The dessert board reads Chocolate Mousse Cake, Fresh Berry Pie, Bread Pudding and Hot Fudge Brownie at Remington’s Family Dining on Fourth Street in Granby.
At the eatery, desserts are abundant and sweet, but the tips? Not so much, according to Donna Ogalo, who for 14 years has served food at the mainstay restaurant.
“Some days have been squeaky,” she said during an especially slow day in late January.
According to Tim Luksa, owner of the restaurant for 10 years, the decline has been going on for a few years.
October, November and December were all deeply hard months compared to last year, he said.
To make ends meet, Luksa has been “cutting, cutting, cutting,” he said, and is working much more himself.
“It’s the worst economic time I’ve seen for business in 15 years,” he said.
At the location across the way, Mad Munchies owner Ed Landa says he has seen a 30 percent drop in business from last year on top of a 20 percent decrease the prior year. The 25-year business owner has tried ways to boost sales, such as adding a salad bar during the summer and wraps to his menu, but due to various factors such as a smaller student lunch crowd, more competition and a lagging turn-around in the economy, he said, he’s making plans to bow out of the business.
Longtime service hub
Granby has long been the service hub of Grand County, where gas stations and fix-it shops outnumber retail outlets, and where neighborhood restaurants are holding on.
Liquor sales, fuel, convenience and grocery stores make up about 60 percent of the town’s sales tax revenue, followed by restaurants and bars, the next largest business sector.
“When Granby starts hurting is when people have started leaving the county,” said Granby Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Brenner. “People have started leaving the county to find other jobs, and then services start to hurt.”
At the Granby Post Office, where there was a waiting list of 60 people about three years ago, there now are about 300 mailboxes available for rent, according to Postmaster Marlynn Mulder.
East Grand School District is down by 93 students compared with last year as of this January, and John Becksmith’s Granby Laundromat has seen a steady decline in use, Becksmith said.
Granby Dental patients seem to be scaling back on costly procedures, with the attitude, ‘If it’s not hurting, why fix it?’ said owner Michelle Burns. “A lot of people have moved away,” she said.
Although the office is not near the point of closing, Burns said patient visits have definitely fallen off.
At Pete Gallo’s Granby Mini Mart U-Haul rental, Gallo could hardly keep up with the number of outgoing rentals through the summer, he said.
About two to three trucks per-week were leaving the county, until November, when incoming U-Hauls stacked his inventory to 15 trucks. “So I’m all set for spring break, when everyone wants to leave,” he said.
Gallo’s convenience store has seen a sharp drop in sales since Winter Park Resort stopped running its worker shuttle this season and moved its employee housing to the Fraser Valley, and since a transient construction population has left the county.
“That has really affected business,” he said. “The Hispanics we had here, that was significant,” he added, reporting an overall 25 percent drop in sales from last year to this year.
Gallo plans to hold on to his business until retirement, just a few years away.
But, “If I didn’t own the property at this place, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “The pie’s only a certain size, and everybody is trying for a slice of it.”
Fast food, slow times
Sales are also underwhelming for fast-food competition south of downtown Granby, blamed by many for restaurant struggles downtown.
“Our store is doing at or a little bit below projected,” said Chris Nichols, owner of McDonald’s near City Market.
And at the nearby Subway, part owner and longtime Grand County resident David Peterson hopes the new restaurant will “pay for the business.”
“It was never our intention to make anybody’s life harder,” Peterson said of his store. “If I didn’t do the store, someone from Denver would do the store,” he said.
Peterson and Nichols both know what it’s like to have restaurant competition, with each owning a franchise restaurant in Winter Park where many new restaurants have joined ranks in the past two years, Peterson said.
In the face of a challenging economy and in competition for tourism dollars, “You just have to adjust your business plan for the type of business you have,” Nichols said.
Sean Richardson, owner of Maverick’s in downtown Granby, said in his fourth year in operation he’s pumped up his marketing strategies, such as attending Farmer’s Markets and other local events to showcase the restaurant’s appetizers and chili.
Although this January was not the restaurant’s best ever, Richardson has seen “more business than we did last year.”
Even though several business owners have left or are on the brink of leaving Granby, the town still lives up to its reputation of being a dependable hub in the county.
Landa says there are a few prospective restaurateurs interested in taking over the Mad Munchies space once he leaves. Thrift, consignment and antiques have become a popular business model; by example, when one thrift store recently moved out of town, two more immediately moved in.
The new “Stan’s Thrift Store and More” owner Stan Bernal says so far business has been “enough to keep the doors open.”
Bargains, it seems, are what today’s consumers want, according to Brenner of the Chamber.
“People aren’t spending,” she said. “And the people who are coming up here are keeping it as inexpensive as they can. They’re bringing their own food, renting and packing more people into a house and sharing the cost instead of separate motel rooms.”
“People are hanging on by a thread right now,” said Granby Mayor Jynnifer Pierro. But she added it all depends on the business. November, overall, was only slightly down in terms of the town’s sales tax income.
Competition, she said, is “fierce, and the margins are really tight.”
According to Landa, the fact grocery-store patrons no longer have to travel downtown for liquor purchases could be hurting the overall downtown. The town approved a liquor-store license last year for a location near City Market.
The town’s use tax, which taxes construction materials and vehicle sales, is down from $1 million a few years ago to just $150,000 at present, indicating how much of a hit the construction industry has taken.
But the mayor cannot help but focus on the positive. “Thank goodness for tourism,” Pierro said.
She noted several attractions on the horizon that may bring more people into town, such as a new medical center being built and a few other events and businesses coming in.
“We all just have to hang in there,” she said. “It’s not going to be another big boom, but it progressively is going to be better.”
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