Road to Recovery: Rabbit Ears Motel continues to welcome visitors, focus on what’s important
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the nearly 50 years his family has owned the Rabbit Ears Motel, Greg Koehler has seen just about everything. And now as the iconic business faces its biggest challenge so far due to COVID-19, he remains focused on what’s important.
“I want my staff and my family to stay healthy … that’s probably what keeps me awake at night,” Koehler said. “Of course, you’re always worried about how business conditions are going to be. You worry about whether we are going to have a ski season and if we don’t have a ski season then what?”
Like so many other businesses in Steamboat Springs, Koehler was enjoying a strong January and February before COVID-19 put the brakes on his operations in early March.
“We’ve owned this business since 1971, and we’ve never experienced anything like this,” Koehler said. “This has certainly been one of the rougher times to be in the lodging business — one of the rougher times to be in any business.”
Since March, Koehler has been dealing with public health restrictions, reopening and a changing world.
“You go from being open one day to saying we’re shutting down the next,” Koehler said. “You cancel all your reservations, you refund all the deposits you’ve had through the winter and all the reservations you had in April and even in May. They were all canceled, so you just have to hold your breath and carry on.”
The motel’s doors were closed to all but essential guests for more than two months. The lodging ban expired May 31, and by June, the Rabbit Ears was welcoming guests — but things had changed.
“Being a family-owned independent, it was really important to me that my rooms were really clean before this,” Koehler said. “Our cleaning standards were always high, but we’ve taken that up to another level — making sure that rooms are disinfected after each stay.”
Employees and guests are required to wear masks, and plexiglas shields have been added to the entry and front desk area. Koehler also has increased contactless procedures for guests and has altered the breakfast room to comply with county health policies. He’s also invested in and will soon start using a hospital-grade Puro UV disinfection lighting system that will be used in his rooms between guests.
Thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program, Koehler was able to hold onto most of his staff of 16 employees, most of them longterm, through the pandemic, and he is grateful for the help.
The Rabbit Ears Motel, known for its iconic sign, was built in 1952. Koehler’s parents Ron and Lyle Koehler purchased the motel in 1971 and moved to town.
Koehler, a 1973 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, attended the University of Oklahoma and worked in the oil fields before returning to Steamboat in 1987 to run the motel.
Koehler’s outlook for the future remains optimistic, but he also sees challenges ahead.
“The challenge is going to be how do you keep a solid tourism business coming through and hope to god that nobody gets sick or brings in the virus,” Koehler said. “I think health containment is going to be the most important thing they (government officials) face.”
In the meantime, Koehler will continue to adjust.
“Obviously, the business climate has changed considerably. We were closed for two and a half months, and we are just starting to gain a little momentum,” Koehler said. “It’s busier than I expected, but everything is short term. There are a lot of last-minute stays, and it’s hard to know what the summer is going to bring.
“Hopefully people will still want to travel, and people will want to come,” he added. “We want people to feel like they’re in an environment that’s safe and healthy for them. I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge.”
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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