Grand summer business ticks up |

Grand summer business ticks up

Visitors to Grand County were plentiful this summer season by most accounts, but the trend of thrifty consumerism apparently continues.

In reflection of the summer months at the close of the Labor Day weekend, “most of the businesses were up or even over last year,” said Grand County Tourism Board sales director Dede Fay, reporting on what she has heard anecdotally from the business communities.

Actual lodging-tax numbers won’t be available until October.

“Of course last year, most businesses had the worst year in recent history. So I’m not hearing about a lot of celebrating going on,” she said.

Grand County saw its share of tourism traffic over the summer, but tourists “may not be spending the way they did pre-recession,” Fay said.

For example, most come up for a day trip out of Denver, she said, rather than spend the whole weekend in the mountains.

New normal

Retail and restaurant traffic at Cooper Creek Square, Winter Park, was up slightly this summer, which is the “new normal,” said Ron Jones, Cooper Creek Square Managing Partner since 1982. He sees slight increases in sales as a positive sign of growing consumer confidence in what is considered a slow recovery of the economy.

“It’s not as good as it was, but it won’t be for awhile,” Jones said.

The amount of traffic to communities this summer proves “the chambers have done an amazing job putting on events that bring people up here,” Fay said. “They have been huge draws to our area this summer. If you can’t find something to do on any given weekend in the county, then you’re not looking.”

Jones agrees events have been a draw, but communities must now become expert on “turning visitors into customers,” he said. For any event held in the community, the duration of the event and the vending should be tailored to not only entertain, but to put people in local restaurants, in shops and in lodging beds, he said.

At the Bar Lazy J, owner Cheri Helmicki of Parshall also recognizes the careful spending habits of consumers. The average vacationer is now more Internet savvy, she said, and will conduct extensive research – such as on Trip Advisor – to help decide where to spend precious vacation dollars.

Since 75 percent of Bar Lazy J clients are repeat guests, positive referrals have paid off for guest-ranch owners this summer season. Bar Lazy J had a “record year,” out of the past 16, Helmicki said.

Bike events attract visitors

High on the list of Grand County’s attractions this summer were the bike events hosted by SolVista and Winter Park Resort.

The Mountain States Cup was the resounding success of the season at SolVista; Crankworx Colorado was the busiest at the base of Winter Park Resort.

“The Saturday of Crankworx Colorado was our busiest bike visit day ever,” said Brian Vandenbroek, director of Finance and Business Development at Winter Park Resort. And overall, 2011 bike visitation numbers made for a resort record, he said.

“Our brand and reputation continue to grow, both in the bike industry and with mainstream guests,” said Winter Park Resort Trestle Bike Park Manager Bob Holme.

The resort also reported increases in pockets of its retail sales, such as Trestle logo wear, jerseys and bike shorts. And a good number of weddings, reunions and family-tailored events at the base kept the momentum strong at the resort through the summer months, according to Resort officials.

At Granby Ranch, Headwater Golf Course revenue was flat compared to last summer, but golfer numbers were the highest in several years, according to Granby Ranch Director of Development Kyle Harris. Deals aimed at attracting new golfers for greater exposure to the sport was the reason for flat revenue, Harris said, but the hope is that the campaign results in future returns.

A marked success at the resort were the Wednesday night Vista Vibe music events, which boosted food and beverage sales during mid-week. And more and more cyclers are using the cross-country trail for hiking and biking at SolVista Ski Basin, Harris said, but SolVista is eager to cater to a greater number of cyclers in the bike park itself.

Water a plus

On the marina front, the summer was good, but there have been “busier summers” in the past, said Pauline Hedgecock of Highland Marina. What contributed to the season’s measured success was the amount of water in the region, which allowed Lake Granby reservoir to remain nearly full throughout the season.

“The full lake helps a whole lot,” she said. “It makes people want to boat.”

Despite the late start of summer due to the late runoff season, sunny weekends in the latter half of the season and heat in Denver also contributed to Grand County’s lake tourism, she said.

Grand County’s EMS kept busy with a mixture of “trauma injuries, crashes and falls,” and “people who came up and became very ill,” said Grand County EMS Chief Ray Jennings, including one motorcycle fatality this summer.

Overall, emergency services had more calls over last year, perhaps one indicator that there were in fact more people in the area. EMS recognized Saturday, Aug. 27, as the biggest community “events” day of the summer, with coverage needed for big events in every corner of the county.

Real estate pulse

Country Ace Hardware, Granby, owner Amy Kaplanis reported a “great summer” for the store. Kaplanis said she saw a significant increase in new second-home owner consumers who “bought houses way below market value and are now trying to fix them up.”

Fraser Valley Ace Hardware owner Jenny Harris saw a similar influx in homeowner consumerism. Although new construction is at a real low, more homeowners opting to keep their homes are loosening their pocketbooks for home improvements, Harris said.

Overall in the real estate market, sales of residential homes and condos have picked up by 9 percent over last year since January, but price volume is down by about 2 percent, according to statistics from the Grand County Board of Realtors.

“It’s still very tough on sellers,” said Board member Loyal Steube, of Re/Max Peak to Peak, Winter Park. Short sales and bank-owned properties are “keeping prices down,” he said.

And, “buyers are looking for the best deal.”

Vacant land sales remain stagnant, perhaps because residential homes and condos are the most affordable in years, according to Cliff Anderson, managing broker of Real Estate of Winter Park. Because of the inventory of residential properties, buyers oftentimes face “the initial shock” of home values compared to when they were purchased – especially if bought four years ago, Anderson said.

Sellers must come to terms with the notion that buyers are aware of the present “soft market,” so any reasonable offer should be considered “good news,” he said.

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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