Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ketchum economy stuck in 1st gear

LOT is up, some businesses close while others open

Express Staff Writer

Unwilling to face another slow shoulder season, at least two Ketchum businesses have decided to abandon ship before spring slack, while a third recently opted to close its brick-and-mortar front to limit overhead. However, the city has also approved several new business licenses this year, and at least one new business owner is not too worried about spring slack.

On Friday, Pam Colesworthy, owner of Tranquility Teahouse, poured her last drop of steaming water over wrinkled leaves before closing the business’s door for the last time. Colesworthy cited a lack of tourists, “particularly this winter,” as the main reason she’s dropping the curtain.

Colesworthy said she simply “burned out working six to seven days” every week since the teahouse opened in December 2011. According to her, it would have been too expensive to hire enough employees to distribute the workload more reasonably.

On April 13, Deborah Burns, owner of Burnsie’s Boutique and also the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission chair, will punctuate 13 years of being in the retail business in the Wood River Valley with a final sale.

“When I look at what I’ve done, I feel I’ve done everything in my power [to succeed],” she said.

Burns said her decision to close is based on factors she can’t control, including slow shoulder seasons, inexorable overhead costs and online shopping’s negative impact on the physical retail industry, which she said she felt “especially this past year and Christmas.” She said that by keeping the shop open, she would remain trapped “living in mediocrity in business.”

Last week, Sayvour Catering closed its storefront in an effort to reduce overhead costs.

“The rent was too expensive,” said co-owner Nadina Keller. “There’s no way.”

She said the company doesn’t need a brick-and-mortar front to operate, though it did sell some products at the shop. She said the catering operation will otherwise continue to conduct business as usual.

Jack Bariteau, co-owner of soon-to-be-opened Velocio café and a landlord to several city businesses, said the recession is still with us. However, he also said the economy has started to turn the corner, one of the reasons that he invested in Velocio, which he said will open before the end of April in the Colonnade building, where Tully’s Coffee previously operated. He said that location was Tully’s most profitable store for many years, which he said goes to show that success is possible.

“Even though we’re opening into slack, we feel very comfortable doing that,” Bariteau said. “We’re certainly operating under the assumption that there’s room in the community for what we’re doing.”

The city’s local-option tax receipts, one way to gauge the health of the local economy, indicate that it is indeed improving. So far this fiscal year, receipts are up almost 8 percent compared to last year. Also, according to Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz, the city has approved 11 new business licenses in the first few months of 2013.

Horowitz said the current business turnover rate is typical of the city and that resort economies tend to have an elevated rate. She said that though the city “broadly” supports businesses in the long term through projects such as infrastructure investments, the “million-dollar question” for the community is how directly involved should the city be?

“I’m not sure the mood in this community is to offer that kind of direct government service,” she said.

Brennan Rego:

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