Small-time embezzlement? The local hook-up in a new light
BRECKENRIDGE – According to Candiss White, an employee at A Racer’s Edge in Breckenridge, this is how the local hook-up usually goes down:Every once in a while, a few locals will pop their heads in at the backdoor of A Racer’s Edge; the type of backdoor that only locals know about. They’ll have goods with them – it could be pizza, it could be beer – because if they’re looking for free stuff, “It’s gotta be an equal trade,” said White. The locals start the ritual of negotiation by handing over their barter to the tuner, the tuner accepts the gift and, once the details have been hammered out, both parties walk away with their bounty – a free tune for the local, a free meal (or buzz) for the tuner.”It’s pretty well known around here, it really is,” White assured. “It’s definitely an everyday, common occurrence.”Whether it’s pizza for a tune or beer for a rental, Summit County’s local hook-up scheme is, it would seem, just as ubiquitous as the snow on its mountains. Most locals have at the very least heard of the ritual, and many will argue that it’s just one of those cool, charming perks of living in small-town America.Unless you’re the business owners taking the hit, that is. “This is one of the only places in the world where you can live in a beautiful place and expect something for free,” vented Eric Mamula, owner of Downstairs at Eric’s in Breckenridge. “I’ve never been able to figure (out) the mentality of someone who has just moved here and expects something for free because of that … If (we) were to give free stuff to every local who walks in, (we’d) be out of business in no time.”Austin Offutt, owner of Recycle Ski and Sport in Frisco, sang a similar tune.”We get the question probably a hundred times a day, ‘What about the local hook-up?’ It wears on you … It’s a bombardment. It’s not one or two people asking, it’s 50 people asking all day long. And the merchandise is 50 percent off already.”Offutt’s answer to the onslaught was to take the local hook-up completely out of his shop. Two years ago when he bought the company, he said Recycle Ski and Sport was “the ultimate hook-up store,” a shop where people would come in constantly with their barter in hand and that gleam in their eyes. His solution was to devise a profit sharing plan with his employees. The more money he (the owner) made each quarter, the more they (the employees) got in their paychecks.”We’re not giving away his product,” said Chae Donahue, one of the employees, adding that Offutt gives his workers great benefits (like annual ski trips) to dissuade them from cheating the company. “We realize how good he takes care of us, so we’re not gonna go behind his back, and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do a tune for some beer.’ None of us in the shop would risk that.”Mamula at Eric’s said his solution to the pandemic is to draw a clear distinction between locals and regulars. If someone comes into his restaurant looking for a local hook-up, he already knows they’re not a regular, because his regulars are already taken care of.”We take care of the people who are (our) bread and butter – guys who come in every day,” Mamula said.But that doesn’t stop the others. Mamula, a 20-year veteran of Summit, said that back in the 90s, he and several other business owners on Breckenridge Main Street had to shut down their nightclubs because so many locals felt they were entitled to a free entrance; a stance that left the owners short of pocket when it came time to pay the cover bands.”The problem is that everyone who owned a club got tired of having to let people in for free because they wouldn’t come in otherwise,” Mamula said. “We had some big names in the Underworld, like Cracker and Dave Mason, and even that kind of act people would be like, ‘Hey bro, can you hook me up? Can I get in for free?'”If the local hook-up can cause difficulties for an establishment like Mamula’s now-folded nightclub, then surely it poses a threat to a place that makes pizza, one of the lynchpins of the Summit barter system.”I know all about (the local hook-up) because I started out as a delivery person,” said Vance Walker, owner of Extreme Pizza in Breckenridge. “It’s pervasive in the industry, but it’s not something I use as currency. I field phone calls every day of people wanting to trade out our product for theirs.”Walker said he usually refuses such offers, but occasionally he will set up a business-to-business trade, like coupons at a tune shop for coupons at his pizza parlor. Nonetheless, he added, “My crew knows they don’t have the thumbs up to do it employee-to-employee. I pay for the product before I prepare the pies. It’s my product. It’s not their product to do what they see fit … That’s tantamount to theft to me.”Guy Natanel, the owner of The Speakeasy movie theater in Breck, agreed that such owner-to-owner bartering (rather than employee-to-employee) is okay. In fact, there are no employees at the Speakeasy, just owners, so it’s the only type of bartering they can do. Regardless, Natanel said that such trading is one of the nicest facets of owning a business in Summit.”Trading is great,” Natanel said. “I wish more people would do it. It’s really fun. It’s like the old days, like trading your sheets for a watermelon. It’s just more high-tech stuff now, like orthotics for a movie ticket. It’s no money involved. It’s nice to put the money behind you for a second.”The list of establishments that Natanel has traded with is impressive: a picture framing company, a whole foods market and an orthotics company, to name a few. He even makes a practice of keeping movie tickets on him around-the-clock. While he condoned the local hook-up as minor theft, he said that if it’s the owners at play, then it’s okay.”That’s what I love about Breck,” Natanel said. “If you support the local businesses, which we try to do regularly, you get the plug, you know. These are the types of things you don’t get from Target and Wal-Mart and the faceless entities.”Andrew Tolve can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13629, or at email@example.com.
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