Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Restaurants lead in closings

Eateries prove a tough go for many north valley business people

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Millie Wiggins strolls by the Main Street storefront of the shuttered Ketchum Kantina Tuesday. North valley restaurants have had a hard time staying in business, according to figures provided by the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. Eight restaurants that were chamber members went out of business in the last year and a half, compared with three during the previous period. Photo by David N. Seelig

There's money in this valley, but some businesses are having a hard time getting a slice of it.

While Ketchum merchants make the tough decision to move to the less expensive south valley, or to close all together, locals are left to mourn the loss of their corner salon, their beloved athletic club or their favorite lunch spot.

In the past year and a half, more than 100 members "dropped," or didn't renew membership in the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said Stefany Mahoney, the chamber's membership manager.

Of those, approximately two dozen went out of business, she said.

Most members are Sun Valley or Ketchum establishments, but membership is not limited by location, Mahoney added.

Although the number of drops is typical—based on businesses' reallocation of marketing funds, company mergers and other factors—the number of failed businesses in one category stands out.

Restaurants topped the list of closed businesses, with eight going under in that period. That's compared with three the previous period.

"For our little town, that's a lot," Mahoney said.

The list includes Il Naso, Bob Dog Pizza, Daily Automatic, Tapestry Gallery & Wine Bar, Evergreen, Fish on Wheels, Ketchum Kantina and Esta.

Four businesses in the spas/salons/medical category closed their doors, as did a theater company, two travel-related businesses and a business-services enterprise.

Seven retail establishments closed during that period—the same number as the previous count.

"Restaurants and retail (owners) tell me they're having a hard time," Mahoney said.

The city of Ketchum has acknowledged the loss of retail, enacting an emergency moratorium and interim ordinance to prohibit all-residential construction in the city core.

The moratorium was later extended to the Tourist and high-density-residential zones of Ketchum.

Officials said depleting sales taxes from disappearing retail operations whose local option taxes help fund essential city services such as fire and police protection amounted to an emergency.

A downtown master plan is being created to help establish a more vibrant city center—emphasizing streetscapes, pedestrian-friendly areas and circulation and parking—that will ultimately help businesses thrive, city officials say.

The moratorium could also put a chill on development that seeks to tear down existing businesses and replace them with more-lucrative condominium projects.

One of the restaurants that closed its Ketchum location during the previous chamber count was Chester & Jake's.

An expansion of the Bellevue business to the north valley lasted just 16 months.

Co-owner Steve Hogan called the Ketchum location a "really bad decision" because of shifting demographics and more people moving south, which resulted in a lack of year-round and dinner business.

The Bellevue location continues to be successful, he said.

Some Ketchum restaurants continue to keep open their doors, however.

Keith Perry, co-owner of Perry's Bakery & Eatery, said he and his wife, Paula, have had to adapt to changing times to stay in business for 20 years.

For a time they owned employee housing; they've altered their opening hours depending on staffing levels and customer demand; and last year they bought their building.

"Nobody can boot us out," Perry said. "Nobody can raise our rent."

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