Breck merchants beats the odds
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge merchants say they are glad just to have survived the winter.”We should be pleased and celebrate how we came out of it, considering what we thought last fall,” Corry Mihm, executive director of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, said at a retail forum Wednesday morning. “We were all biting our nails. We’re very happy.”Nationwide, resort merchants said they anticipated revenue decreases of between 10 to 35 percent after terrorist activities exacerbated an already faltering economy, Mihm said. Although hard figures aren’t yet available, Breckenridge merchants say business was off only slightly this past ski season.But the road to a slightly-off season was marked by erratic periods of booming business followed by periods of slower-than-anticipated sales. December was down – in some cases by 50 percent – until the last 10 days of the year, but those 10 days weren’t enough to make up for lost sales in the first three weeks. Overall, January was strong, but February was slightly down. March spring break crowds helped boost overall season sales.”We’re kind of happy with just surviving,” said Judy Pollock of J&M Jewelers, adding that a common theme she heard from destination visitors was that the mountains were overly crowded.Carmen Johnson of Shirt off my Back said her records show her Breckenridge store fared better than her stores in Keystone.”I think what Breckenridge has to be happy for is that we’re not in Keystone,” she said. “We were literally pulling teeth to get people in the (Keystone) store, and when the gondola went down, that really hurt us.”After Sept. 11, state and local tourism officials redesigned their winter marketing approaches to lure the drive market to Colorado to visit friends and family. It worked, retailers agreed.”People tended to visit in packs and hordes,” Mihm said. “That substantiates what we heard throughout the nation.””It’s not a season they want to repeat,” said Jan McKim, owner of Skilled Hands Gallery, of comments she’s heard from other merchants in town. “No one knew what to expect. We’re happy we made it through.”Merchants said they saw more vehicular traffic in town – but fewer walk-in traffic to stores. And those who did shop didn’t spend the money they usually do. Front Range skiers often bring lunches with them and don’t shop in town because usually they can obtain anything they might want on the Front Range.That’s part of what is believed to be a changing demographic of skiers and buyers to whom merchants need to adapt, resort officials say.A variety of things are believed to have helped downtown business, including installation of a bridge from the Sawmill parking lot, erecting signage to direct people to town and staffing an information kiosk in the skier parking lots. Another somewhat unexpected benefit occurred with Vail Mountain’s black-out dates, which resulted in would-be Vail skiers driving to Summit County to ski.”We need to learn from Vail,” said town council member Dave Hinton. “They’re still trying to figure out what the hell’s going on.”Making ends meet isn’t the only challenge merchants experienced during the 2001-2002 season.Travelers have started to expect discounts, primarily because of the soft economy.”That’s a new blip on the horizon,” Mihm said. “We need to know what that means for the future. Once people get used to something, it doesn’t go away just because the economy gets better.”Those attending the Wednesday forum said retailers need to stay open later at night to attract the after-dinner crowds.And animation – street performers, ice sculpting demonstrations, a bonfire and the like – is key. The issue was discussed at the beginning of the season, but little has been done to address it. Hinton expressed dismay that the ski resort decided against opening the Maggie Pond this year, saying it is a prime example of something for families to do.”We have to do something next year,” Hinton said. “If there’s a reason to stay in town, the next thing you know, we need a sweatshirt, we’re buying something for the house.”The next retail forum is tentatively scheduled for June 5.Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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