Lodging, business leaders cautiously optimistic about Steamboat economy | SteamboatToday.com

Lodging, business leaders cautiously optimistic about Steamboat economy

Kim Nienhaus helps customer Conner Kosmoski at Chocolate Soup Pastry Cafe at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Lodging numbers in Steamboat Springs are on par with last year
John F. Russell

— Sandy Evans Hall said amid all of the snow, chatter about the local economy has been sunny lately.

“In terms of the people I’m talking to out on the streets, I think we can expect retail to be up a little bit over last year,” Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said about sales numbers from the holiday season.

She said local business owners are telling her they’re surpassing 2009 holiday numbers and are pleased with shoppers’ spending during the past few weeks. Although Evans Hall described local lodging as “a little bit flat right now,” she said restaurant and retail activity appears to be trending upward.

“I haven’t met anyone who is saying they’re down over last year — no one,” Evans Hall said Thursday. “Either they’re lying, or they’re all truly feeling that things are better.”

Jamie McQuade, owner of Winona’s Restaurant & Bakery, said the downtown restaurant’s numbers “definitely have been up” compared with this time in 2009.

“We’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks,” McQuade said Thursday. “The days have been pretty crazy. … We’ve been having a lot of people in and a lot of people walking around downtown.”

That kind of activity could be a breath of fresh air for local businesses that have struggled through a recession, a shrinking local job market and decreased tourism and sales tax numbers, all coupled with a massive reconstruction project on Lincoln Avenue through downtown Ste­amboat in spring and fall this year.

Visitor numbers have been relatively stable compared with 2009 during the holiday season. According to the Chamber’s weekly lodging barometer, about 9,000 people came to town last weekend, compared with 9,800 for the corresponding weekend in 2009. About 8,900 visitors are expected to spend New Year’s Day in Steamboat, though, compared with 8,600 a year ago.

The weekend after New Year’s is projected to see a significant boost compared with 2009, largely because the MusicFest at Steamboat falls on a weekend this year. The music festival is Jan. 5 to 12 at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The MusicFest at Steamboat tent will go up in the Knoll Parking Lot starting Sunday.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kast­en said the festival should bring about 5,000 people to Steamboat. The Chamber is projecting 11,800 visitors in town the weekend of Jan. 8.

Barbara Robinson, general manager of the Holiday Inn of Steamboat, said the inn’s bookings have been good.

“We are up over last year and are really very optimistic,” Robinson said. “I really think that we have, as an industry, been very aggressive with our offers, and I think people are just aching to travel.”

She said lower room rates industry-wide could be spurring last-minute travel plans.

McQuade noted that a relatively strong holiday season doesn’t necessarily translate into a long-term economic rebound.

“I don’t think Steamboat has seen its worst yet,” McQuade said. “I think the economy still has a little ways to go locally. … And I don’t think the housing market is going up anytime soon.”

Evans Hall said businesses could look forward, though, to January events including the MusicFest and the Bud Light Cowboy Downhill at the ski area.

“I think we have an opportunity with the snow to drive more business in January — I’m very optimistic,” Evans Hall said.

She clarified that statement, acknowledging that she is almost always optimistic.

“I’m more optimistic than usual,” she said with a laugh. “It’s getting up there on the scale. It might be a 10.”

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