Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Locals, special events take sting out of slack

Merchants, restaurateurs have developed strategies to deal with business in a resort environment

Express Staff Writer

With owner Keith Perry looking on, right, Cesar Rivera., chef at Perry’s restaurant in Ketchum, creates a specialty sauté dish with flaming tequila. Photo by Willy Cook

After 32 years in business, Carol Knight doesn't welcome shoulder seasons, but she is well enough acquainted with them to know how to cope.

The Toy Store owner keeps her Ketchum and Sun Valley shops open year round, despite the dips and drops in business activity.

"Once that cash flow diminishes, then it's hard," she said. But, "it's just the way it is."

All seasoned shop owners and restaurateurs are familiar with the inevitable slower months known in resort communities as "slack."

While December is a huge month for Knight, summer also brings lots of visitors and brisk sales. Crowds thin considerably after Labor Day, leaving Knight to ride out autumn with locals and regional shoppers, and the steady but slower sales brought by events and celebrations.

"I do day-in, day-out birthday business," she said. "Some people Christmas shop, so I'm either gift wrapping or shipping."

Knight's store features a costume room, which boosts her business in October. Early and mid-November is tough, but she holds out until Thanksgiving week, when things turn around again.

Lara Spencer, owner of The Dollhouse Consignment Boutique, with locations in Ketchum and Hailey, said she's less impacted by slack because the majority of her patrons are locals.

"I'm really, really blessed because my business is based on our local community," she said. "I get an extra, added bonus when tourists come through town."

She said getting involved in the community is central to the way she does business, giving her personal satisfaction as well as business exposure.

"Community service first and financial gain second," she said.

Keith Perry, owner of Perry's restaurant in Ketchum, also counts locals as his mainstay.

"We don't go up and down that much," he said. "We're mostly a locals' business."

He does see a surge during peak times, but he manages the ebb and flow by having a flexible labor pool.

High school students make up a large portion of his staff, and are ready to work in the busy summer and winter-break periods.

He, like many business owners, said the economy is a much bigger problem than slack.

"The last four years have been tough," he said. Still, "We're thankful we have year-round business."

Lost River Outfitters in Ketchum experiences slack, but somewhat later than other businesses.

"We're busy through October," said owner Scott Schnebly. Sales at the retail store drop off as visitor numbers drop, he said, but guide bookings continue.

"We're slightly different," he said. "We gain an extra month."

By November, activity slows considerably.


"You hope you build enough cushion over the summer" to get through, he said. "We try to cut expenses where we can."

Schnebly keeps his doors open later into the evening, which he says brings in many customers.

"If everybody in town did that, I think we'd have a more lively little township," he said.

Terry Murphy, owner of Ketchum's Bellissimo, said her store doesn't feel slack's impact, in part because she constantly brings in new items and partly because of orders from her website, which also serves as a draw for in-store visits.

"We're full of inventory," she said. "We're going to stay completely stocked and ready."

A vital facet of her business is her "loyal local clientele."

"They've saved my business over and over," she said.

Summer sales were strong, she said, and some of that is carrying over into the fall.

"People continue to buy off the (wedding) registry," she said.

Others are looking forward to the holidays, and earlier.

"People are Christmas shopping already," she said, adding that this year's early holiday shopping is brisker than last year's.

Special events give

businesses a boost

Although fall and spring can't match the busy seasons of summer and winter, new and expanding festivals and events are giving stores and eateries a lift.

This summer, business was strong, Knight said, but fall activity is picking up.

"Weekends seem to be busier with local events, which is great," she said. "It brings people in."

Many of those are regional visitors coming in for the Sun Valley Harvest Festival, Ernest Hemingway Symposium, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival and Sun Valley Jazz Festival.

"Fall's better for me (than spring) because of upcoming holidays," she said. "I'm really looking forward to the Trailing of the Sheep. It's a really nice, new, strong event."

She's encouraged by the increase in organized activity.

"Any time there's two or three events on a weekend, you start to get busy Thursday and go through Sunday," she said.

To keep businesses going and even growing in seasons high and low, Knight promotes the "shop local" ethos.

"The Internet seems really convenient, but it certainly doesn't help our community," Knight said. "You have to support your people."

She said visitors tell her repeatedly how unique Ketchum is in that there are so many independent businesses.

"The merchants here and the restaurants have a real commitment to our community ... and to each other," she said.

To keep that community going, Knight offers a last bit of advice.

"Keep your doors open," she said, and "keep giving good service."

Rebecca Meany:

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