Grand County has bounced back from tougher times
November 20, 2008
Woodworker Mike Blasi of TrimWorks of Grand County Inc. remembers a period in the late 1980s when he ditched his trade to clean chimneys ” a time when the high country wallowed in economic dire straits.
Fellow quality tradesmen, he said, “went to clean condos, or they became cooks.”
During that time, Blasi took daily trips to the county seat to check a bulletin board that displayed building permits.
“From January 1 to May 1, there were five building permits issued in the whole county,” Blasi said.
“Two were re-roofs, one was a garage, one was the installation of a wood stove, and another was the addition to a family house. That’s all there was.
“When I saw that, I knew it was time to go.”
Blasi left job-starved Colorado to work for his carpenter father-in-law in Illinois.
Boom and bust
In Grand County in the early ’80s, housing values had peaked, but then fell dramatically during the last years of the decade as bank foreclosures increased. Interest rates and inflation skyrocketed.
The workforce population of Grand County, residents aged 20-34 years, declined by 21 percent during that time, according to Grand County’s master plan.
As Colorado struggled with rippling effects of an oil industry bust, the 1987 “Black Monday” stock market crash in the midst of an imploding real-estate market, compounded by the collapse of Savings and Loan Corporations such as the Colorado-based Silverado bank that was seized by federal regulators in 1988, at least two over-extended Grand County banks failed before being salvaged by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC.
What barely predated all of this in Grand County was a tragic plane crash near Granby in January of 1986.
Prospects for major development at SilverCreek Ski Resort were shattered when five people were killed in the crash, including two majority owners of SilverCreek, Willard Bud Gettle and Calvin Kelly Klancke. They purchased the Granby resort in 1980 as the SilverCreek Development Corporation, promising to revitalize the resort with real estate ventures.
Although the corporation had some finance struggles prior, “things really went to heck” for the resort after the sudden loss of its key executives, according to former Sky-Hi News publisher Patrick Brower. “It did have a big impact,” Brower said.
“This is probably the third boom-bust cycle I’ve seen,” Blasi said.
“But the bust of the late 80s was tougher than this one.”
A Grand County drywaller since 1983, Jon Raftshol, agrees times were harder then.
“We were going pretty good, then it just quit, it just stopped. Work was really tough,” he said.
To make ends meet, Raftshol resorted to finding work in other parts of the state and in places as far as Hawaii.
Now minding warning signals for another wash of hard times, Raftshol said he is doing his best to stay busy. “I have a few projects to take me through the winter” he said. “There’s enough to get me through winter and through the spring.”
Blasi so far can’t complain. To ride the tide, TrimWorks picked up work in Breckenridge as well as a few major projects locally.
He and company partner Keith Eatough hired two new employees this week. “We’re good at least until next summer,” he said.
In contrast, during the late ’80s “there was no business,” he said.
Owner of Granby Roofing Company since 1976, Jeff Johnston called the late ’80s “horrific years,” going as far as to call the period his “Great Depression.”
Johnston fought through foreclosure on his house and was forced to give up properties to the bank. Project bankruptcies were happening in droves, he said.
Johnston started traveling for about a five-year period when Grand County dried up.
When the crisis began to settle around 1990, what followed was the “long and bitter process” of working out outstanding loans after the federal government took control of the banks.
Though there has been a population boom since ” as well as higher grocery, fuel, mortgage and health costs compared to that time ” the difference from then to now, the roofer said, is that today, there is still work out there.
“There’s a lot of hope,” Johnston said, adding that in the late ’80s, all hope was wrung dry.
“There are still a lot of plans being made, and when credit gets released, they’re going to take off.”
But Marvin Fischer, who was Grand County’s building official when “the building market went to heck in a bushel basket,” fears today’s economic crises are far worse when judging them on a national and global scale.
“It seemed to me like in the early ’80s, it affected the housing and building market a lot, but this time around, it seems like it’s affecting everything.”
Government, after all, just made the largest bailout in history, he said.
It’s a view shared by Jay Clough, who arrived to Grand County as a carpenter in 1972. In the late 1980s, he remembers doing whatever it took to survive the time.
But, “Problems now seem to be more systemic, wider,” he said. “The whole world seems in flux.”
Back then, the cost of living was still affordable in Grand County, he said.
Today, “the young families, I would suspect, are taking the biggest hit here.”
Perhaps then the key is to set standards lower, according to senior citizen Dorothy Lockhart of Granby, who knows firsthand how hard work, resourcefulness and long hours can get people through lean years.
Her advice “is to not expect too much out of the business,” she said. People should “be thankful for a nice little income,” she continued, “but know you’re not going to get rich.”
Correspondingly, “We really should be counting our blessings,” Clough said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be circling our wagons, paying attention and making good choices.”
But what Grand County’s breadwinners should keep in mind, Clough added, is “when you travel away from Grand County, then come back over the pass, you really do recognize what a great place it is ” even in troubling times.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.