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Holiday weekend a mixed bag for Fraser Valley businesses

by Stephanie Miller
Sky-Hi Daily News
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As far as Thanksgiving weekend retail sales went for Winter Park and the Fraser Valley, most businesses reported a fairly slow start to the holiday season compared with last year, while a few reported an increase.

Results were mixed, but everybody seems to be hanging on one common thread: Pray for snow.

Jenn deBerge, communications coordinator for Winter Park Resort, said skier visits and lodging were softer this year compared to last year. Although the mountain opened additional terrain during the weekend, last year’s Thanksgiving weekend saw more early season snowstorms and offered more terrain for skiers and riders.

Still, locals are crossing their fingers.

“Christmas bookings continue to look strong, and guest comments were strong. And the cooler temperatures have helped us make snow,” deBerge said. “Mother Nature seems to be lending a hand. The forecast looks good for this week.”

Robin Wirsing, co-owner of Allegiant Management, said lodging was “definitely down” from last year during Thanksgiving weekend. She did not have numbers available for Iron Horse Resort, but overall (with the exception of Iron Horse), occupancy was at 40 percent.

“Which is substantially less than other years,” Wirsing said.

November usually sees substantial last-minute bookings because guests tend to take a “wait-and-see” approach, Wirsing explained. Because of the lack of snow, those type of reservations didn’t happen this year.

Destinations West, however, was up from last year in terms of lodging, said President DiAnn Butler.

“We had a list of alternative activities for people to do, and it went a lot smoother than I thought it would,” Butler said. She added reservations looked strong for the winter, and were up overall.

The Wild West Trading Company, which opened in September next to Safeway, had a “really busy weekend,” said employee Randi Bielawski. Sunday was quieter, she added, but Friday and Saturday, “We were swamped.”

Wild Horse Gourmet also had a strong weekend, said owner Chris French.

November tends to be fairly quiet, she admitted, but the holiday weekend picked up the steam.

“We saw a lot of second homeowners buying decorations for houses, and ordering food to cook in (their homes). We also saw people who had condos doing the same,” French said.

French’s catering company Wild Horse Catering was also looking good in terms of bookings, she added. Holiday parties, both private and corporate, were doubled compared to last year, due to more local support.

As for ski shops, most didn’t see the numbers they had hoped.

Ski Broker Valley Board and Bike, in Fraser, was roughly $20,000 down from last year, said the store’s owner, Paul Jones, reflecting a 35 percent decrease.

Last year was a record year, however, Jones pointed out. And compared to 2003 to 2005, numbers are up. Still, the numbers are disconcerting.

“It’s the lack of snow,” Jones said. “But online booking for December is looking up ” maybe even with last year. So we’re recouping.”

Ski Depot Sports had a “comparable” weekend, said Manager Micah McKeough. But foot traffic was slower, she added.

“We exceeded our numbers, because we had bigger sales. But it was not as busy as last year,” McKeough said. “We had more retail, but less rentals.”

Others had better luck, and used the lack of snow to their advantage. Christy Sports, located inside Cooper Creek Square, reported a “great” Thanksgiving weekend.

Owner Jim Peterson said sales were up 6 percent compared to last year. He admitted he was surprised.

“I think it’s weather-related. They tend to end up here Christmas shopping, when the skiing’s not that great,” Peterson said.

Susan Volk, owner of Mountain Grind Coffee and Bistro, agreed the lack of snow actually brought customers in. Sales were up by roughly 20 percent over the weekend, she said, and Thanksgiving day was busier than last year by about 50 percent. She was pleasantly surprised by the numbers, she added.

“Because the snow’s not that fantastic, people shopped and dined,” Volk said.

Other stores in Cooper Creek Square were slower. Be …, a women’s clothing store, had a slower Saturday than last year, said owner Gosia Rafacz, which she attributed to the lack of snow. Friday and Sunday, however, were busier, she added.

John Flight, owner of the General Store next door, also said business was “a little soft” compared to last year.

“I hope the snow comes at some point,” Flight added.

Other parts of town showed slower businesses as well. Winter Park Market owner Michele Murray-Hedlund said her store, an organic goods and foods store in downtown Winter Park, had a good, regular weekend, but it was “businesses as usual, not a holiday weekend.”

Rocky Mountain Moonshine, a liquor store in Fraser, had a comparable Thanksgiving day and weekend, said store employee Brian Ridley. But the weekend slowed down, he said.

As for local restaurants, the Untamed Southwest Grill in downtown Winter Park had a “pretty good” weekend, but not as busy as they had thought it would be. Fontenot’s Fresh Seafood and Grill had sales that were comparable to last year, said Tyson Strong, with “less customers, but bigger spenders.”


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