Students who kept Colorado’s resort-town economies alive during COVID are now headed back to school

As seasonal workers return to classrooms, merchants cut hours and service in Breckenridge, Telluride and Crested Butte

Nancy Lofholm
The Colorado Sun

DENVER — Asign outside Butte Bagels advises customers that this popular breakfast stop, in the alley behind the Crested Butte post office, is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A gaggle of tourists gathers close to peer at the sign, at the “help wanted” sign next to it, and through the darkened windows before they give up and wander off on their quest for food.

Finding a meal, a drink, or an open shop to buy souvenirs or necessities in Crested Butte and other busy mountain towns is about to get even more difficult as the worker shortage in service-related businesses runs up against the opening bell at schools.

From Telluride to Breckenridge, the kids who have kept the wheels of commerce turning in this busier-than-usual season are quitting in droves. That means the “closed” and “help wanted” signs that have signaled distress at businesses all summer spell out even more urgency now. There aren’t enough adult workers in these resort towns to take the jobs; they can’t afford the sky-high housing costs. So, skeleton crews will be left behind to soldier on in a year when some businesses have operated with students making up more than 80% of their employees.

At Downstairs at Eric’s in Breckenridge, owner Eric Mamula said next week he is losing five teenage workers, including a son and two nephews. Mamula, who is also the mayor of Breckenridge, called it “a huge bummer.”

A few weeks ago, he thought the students leaving meant he was going to be working 15-hour days, seven days a week at the pub, even with his willingness to hire “anyone who walked in off the street.” But “pure dumb luck” brought a couple of competent new adult workers through his door. He said he feels better about his employee situation now, but he knows other places in Breckenridge have had to close several days a week because they are short of help.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.