Road to Recovery: Homesteader adjusts business to overcome challenges created by pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 20 years as business owners, Steve Kennedy and his wife, Daniela, have overcome a number of challenges at their downtown Steamboat Springs store, The Homesteader, which specializes in quality kitchenware and gourmet foods.
“The first thing was 9/11, then we had the Great Recession, then we had the road construction on Lincoln, which destroyed retail for a year and a half,” Steve said. “Then the internet, which destroyed retail for a lot of commodity-based products.”
And this spring, COVID-19 shut down businesses for weeks.
Steve and Daniela have learned that the key to surviving is adjusting to their changing circumstances and trying to figure out where the consumer is headed before they get there.
“The ability to continue to change and evolve is something we have done since we’ve had this store — that’s the only way we’ve been able to survive,” Steve said. “We continue to do that now, we just have to do it even faster.”
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Steve, a former accountant, and his wife bought The Homesteader in 2000. They are the third owners of the kitchen store, which originally opened in 1975.
It was a natural fit for Daniela who was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, where she learned and honed her passion for creating tasty treats from her father, a professional chef. Daniela worked as a chocolatier in Zurich, and it’s a passion that followed her to Steamboat. Nine years ago, she created Blüml’s artisan chocolate by Daniela, and her delicious treats have become one of The Homesteader’s trademark products.
For the past four months, Steve has been doing his best to adjust to uncertain times.
“While we were closed, we did different things,” Steve said. “We were able to rearrange the store to create more open space for people to walk around and shop. We reworked displays. We painted one of the walls just to try to improve the store layout.”
To help generate income in the seven weeks his store was closed, Steve also created shopsteamboat.com, which features local products that can be found at The Homesteader.
“We created the website so that people could shop for local products on our website,” Steve said. “We put only local products on it like Dave Winters’ cutting boards, Chef Dean Martin’s Asian BBQ & Marinade sauce and local coffee from Steamboat Coffee Roasters and Daniela’s granola … all of our local products. That is what the website was for and that helped us generate some sales when we were actually closed.”
Since reopening, Steve said foot traffic has been good but not where it was a year ago. He also has faced issues with getting products into his store, especially core kitchen products.
“If the stuff wasn’t made in the states or wasn’t shipped to California or Texas, we have a hard time getting it,” Steve said. “Either the warehouses don’t have it or the warehouses are closed.”
He said the pandemic has sparked a new interest in baking across the country. That’s great, but it also has made it difficult for retailers to get things like cookie sheets, jelly roll pans and bread rising baskets.
Daniela has increased production of her granola and chocolates. Steve said he is also searching for other vendors within Colorado who are still producing and shipping products. He hopes he will be able to find new merchandise that will become the next big hit in The Homesteader lineup.
“It’s great,” Steve said of the locally made products. “That’s what the locals want and what the tourists want.”
Steve said COVID-19 has changed the summer tourism season, but he still sees people coming from the big city to enjoy the cool temperatures and lifestyle the mountains can offer. He can’t predict the future, but he believes Steamboat’s tourism industry will remain strong and his business’ success will continue to depend on his ability to adjust.
“It’s definitely a different world, and it changes every month,” Steve said. “I think our town has a lot going for it, so if there are events or if there are no events, the summers find a way to be busy. There’s also a critical mass of second homeowners now, that especially this year, are spending more time here.”
The Road to Recovery series is part of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s ongoing efforts to report on how COVID-19 is impacting Steamboat Springs and Routt County. This series is supported in part by a grant from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Routt County’s COVID-19 incidence rate is increasing exponentially and is now among the top three in Colorado behind only Moffat and Kit Carson counties.