Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In south, solid retail sales reported

Some merchants return to ‘normal’ and hope for the best

Express Staff Writer

The holiday season brought a mixed bag to the south valley. Some businesses in Hailey and Bellevue got the usual boost in business that comes with reindeer and jingle bells, while others saw a drop in sales from the previous season.

"The holiday was very good to us this year," said Mitzi Mecham, owner of Notes Music on Main Street in Hailey. "We were quite worried about it due to the fact the business was down drastically in October and November. It was almost as if people were waiting until the last minute this year to see how much money they could actually spend."

Mecham said she and many of her friends did all their shopping in the Wood River Valley, rather than drive to Twin Falls or Boise for deals.

"Thanks to Sturtevants and Ski Tek (in Ketchum), we got some great deals and great service as well," she said.

Hailey Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Deckard conducted a limited survey of seven businesses. Three said business was slightly better than last year, three reported the same level and one business said this year was "significantly worse."

"It's typical to what we have seen around the country—things are slightly better than last year," Deckard said. "The good news is we are seeing some recovery. We will continue to strive to increase those numbers any way we can."

The Toy Store on Bullion Street in Hailey was quite busy, said owner Carol Knight, who attributes her success to a number of items under $20.

"Hopefully, our winter business will continue on a positive note," Knight said.

Brian Kriesien, owner of KB's Burritos on Main Street in Hailey, closed a restaurant in Ketchum last year. His gross receipts were up about 15 percent over the two-week holiday season.

"For us it has continued into 2010," Kriesien said. "With only one store, you have to come to Hailey for KB's, and come they did."

Sue Ahern, owner of the recently reopened Full Moon Café on Main Street in Bellevue, said her catering and lunch business picked up for the holidays.

"We had a pretty good December season," Ahern said. "Offsite catering was somewhat busy with staffed events and we did more drop-off food this season. I think because of the economy, people didn't want the on-site labor costs. So they did more themselves."

Vicky Walker, owner of Oak Street Foods on the east side of Main Street, said the 2009 holiday season was "definitely slower than last year."

"Not only are many of my regular customers, being in the construction trade, laid off or cut back in hours, but many of the employers who previously hired me for holiday parties chose to give employees paid time off or cash bonuses instead of an employee Christmas party."

Walker speculated that with Christmas and New Year's days both falling on Fridays, people chose to leave town for long weekends.

"Business did pick up again after New Year's once the kids were back in school, and life kind of got back to normal," she said. "My regular customers came back again. We'll see how it goes. More snow would help everyone up and down the valley—it's all a domino effect.

The AmericInn, in northern Hailey, saw a drop in occupancy rates from last year's holiday season. Assistant Manager Stacey Parker received 971 guests during the month of December, compared with 1,016 in December 2008.

"The sad part is our average room rate for December 2008 was $109. This year it was only $97," Parker said.

Parker said the AmericInn tries to "hook" people with lower rates, but can't compete with some of the deals closer to Baldy.

"It doesn't help when Sun Valley is offering $98 for a double room with free lift ticket," she said.

The city of Hailey will release local-option tax figures from the holiday season in late January, a good indication of the level of commercial activity in the town.

Tony Evans:

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