Steamboat businesses brace for summer challenges

Local owners find ways to cope with inflation, supply shortages, lack of workers, more

Staff at Fuzziwig's Candy Factory on Licoln Avenue had to be flexible during during the post-pandemic era of business.
Spencer Powell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

For stores and restaurants in Steamboat Springs, flexibility has been the key to staying steady during the pandemic and the ensuing challenges.

Amid supply-chain disruptions, inflation, staffing shortages and a swell of post-pandemic tourism, many local businesses have had to stay on their toes to confront these obstacles. Still, they remain defiant they can handle the trials.

“We’re not going anywhere,” says Peter Gudolawicz, a manager at F.M. Light and Sons.

A continuing concern is a staffing shortage, which retail and restaurant owners consistently attribute to the high cost of housing in Steamboat. Bill Hamil, owner of Steamboat Meat and Seafood Company, said three of his 10 employees live in Craig and collaborate on carpools to get into town.

Hamil said he doesn’t quite have the staff to stay open seven days a week, as his eatery is closed Sundays and Mondays, but he hopes to hire enough staff to at least start opening on Mondays.

Many other restaurants in town have reduced their hours or resorted to closing for a day or two each week because of staffing shortages.

Several restaurant and retail shop owners said they are hiring high school students and young adults who live with their parents to cope, as the biggest challenge of hiring new employees is often finding applicants who already reside in town with a steady living situation.

Higher shipping costs and limited supply have made it difficult to get certain products for restaurants and retail stores. However, the staff at Fuzziwigs Candy Factory fine-tuned a few recipes to keep business moving amid shortages.

“We’ve been real creative in the kitchen,” said Toni Amrein, who prepares the treats for the Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory on Lincoln Avenue.

Audrey Zwak, store manager at Fuzziwig’s, said orders for products can be inconsistent and unpredictable. For her, one solution has come with more planning.

“I triple order what I need,” she said.

Still, it’s not just gas prices that have risen. Hamil said shipping costs for his overnight deliveries of lobster have gone from $2.50 a pound to $3.50 a pound over the last few months.

Nick Sharp, the director of Operations for the Rex’s Family of Restaurants, said he hasn’t experienced many difficulties getting food in stock, but he has noticed difficulties getting larger items such as chairs or refrigerator parts.

“There’s challenges, nothing we can’t overcome, but some products aren’t as available as they once were,” Sharp said.

Anticipating costs will continue an upward trajectory, Powder Day Donuts is rolling out a promotion for locals to pre-purchase six dozen donuts — locking in the price so to speak— which could be redeemed over the course of many visits.

Many people expect Steamboat will be busy this summer, but business owners are unsure if commerce will match last year when COVID restrictions and mask mandates were first lifted.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber reports that lodging reservations for the next 60 days are slightly down compared to last year, but overall, many restaurant and retail shop owners remain optimistic about summer business.

Hamil says his catering schedule is almost completely booked through August, and he expects to be busy, considering last winter was busier for the Steamboat Meat and Seafood Company than even prepandemic levels.

This summer, retail shops and restaurants expect a steady stream of traffic from the Front Range, but expect to see less out-of-state traffic as gas prices and airfares have sharply risen, according to the Steamboat Chamber.

A common observation among business owners in Steamboat is how second homeowners have grown as a demographic throughout the pandemic. At the Steamboat Art Company, staff remarked that their store’s average checkout totals have doubled because of the shift in clientele.

Melinda Miller, who co-owns the Steamboat Art Company, said the influx of upper-class second homeowners has not only expanded the number of wares being sold, but the types of wares also.

“People want lots of bright colors,” Miller said, referring to the evolving clientele. “People want things that make them happy.”

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