Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Businesses ring in New Year with a bang

Ketchum attracts throngs of visitors

Express Staff Writer

Joe Yarborough and Susi Christensen, bartenders at Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant, take a moment Saturday night to toast the New Year. Photo by Willy Cook

The clink of glasses and the sound of cheers were heard well past New Year's Eve as local businesses celebrated one of the busiest holiday weekends in recent memory.

"We have a lot of happy store owners in town," said Ellen Gillespie, public relations coordinator for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

An informal survey of merchants showed that 20 out of 25 saw an increase in business over last year's holiday season. Three respondents said business was the same, while just two said it was down.

"That's overwhelmingly positive," Gillespie said. "If we get more than half saying business was up, that's pretty good."

Restaurant workers kept busy at the register, in the dining room and behind the grill.

Staff at Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant hustled all month, peaking over the New Year's weekend with approximately 1,400 meals served during the three-day period.

On Dec. 23, the Ketchum restaurant served more than 400 dinners and stayed above that figure all week. On Friday, Dec. 30, the number hit 476, and peaked New Year's Eve with 512 dinners served. Jan. 1 saw continued activity at the restaurant, with 400 dinners served.

Up the road at Globus restaurant, owner Wendy Muir said it was the busiest weekend in the six years she's worked there.

"We had record sales," she said. "A lot of it was that people were ordering really nice red wine."

Sales could have been higher if they didn't turn customers away to honor reservations made by other people who never showed up, Muir said.

Still, business was strong. The 186 dinners served on Friday was just six shy of a record. But the dollar amounts spent put sales numbers over the top.

"It was a really great holiday season," she said. "Everything went really well. People were happy."

Visitors and locals who dined in, or who wanted snacks at the ready for New Year's Day, stormed Atkinsons' Market in downtown Ketchum on Dec. 31.

Although the busiest day of the holiday season was Dec. 23, with Dec. 24 coming in second, the New Year's weekend was humming, said owner Chip Atkinson.

"The whole week is busy," he said. "Fortunately, our people work really hard, which is a huge help."

Atkinson worked with his main distributors to have deliveries five or six days a week instead of the usual three to keep up with demand.

He also stocked a trailer in Bellevue with extra produce to have quick deliveries when needed.

"We try to prepare those pieces, we try to stock up, but we don't have much storage space (on site)," he said.

Atkinson estimated that business during the holiday week was up approximately 7 percent, but he wasn't sure what impact the closing of Williams Market, Ketchum's only other grocery store, had on that figure.

Reservations through ResortQuest, a vacation home rental agency, were at 98 percent over the New Year's weekend, said communications director Alexia Poe.

"That includes a number of last-minute bookings," she said. "So, a lot of folks were enjoying Sun Valley and the Ketchum area over the holidays."

Even though the crowds have dispersed, work remains for those in the service industry.

"Now we have to reorganize and clean up," Atkinson said.

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