Lost summer: Retailers counting losses after summer season dashed by fire

Every year when summer tourists come to visit the Pikes Peak region, they shop and stay in Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park.

So it’s easy to imagine what happens to businesses when they don’t come.

The Waldo Canyon fire made national and international headlines when it forced the evacuation of Manitou Springs and swept over a hill on the northwest end of Colorado Springs to devour about 350 homes.

“We usually get people not just from all across the country, but from all over the world,” said Debbie Cohen, manager at Glass Blowers of Manitou Springs. “But the news, the national news, kept them away.”

In the wake of the Waldo Canyon fire, the Pikes Peak Region Mayors’ Caucus organized a “Business Rising” bus tour through the small tourist communities most impacted by the fire last week.

“We want to raise awareness and let everyone know these communities are open for business,” said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach.

The tour took the mayors of each community and about a dozen others through the towns to shop.

It didn’t make a dent in anyone’s bottom line, but merchants said they’re happy to see city and town leaders doing what they can to spread the word that businesses are open.

A lost summer

Business started to pick up a bit in August, Cohen said. But not enough, and it’s already slowing back down now that school is in session again and families aren’t coming out.

While the tourists became scarce this summer, Cohen said the problem was even worse with locals staying home, too.

“When it’s so hot like it was this summer, people don’t want to come out,” she said.

Ron Doak, manager at Manitou Outpost and Gallery, said things picked up a little, but never returned to normal summer volume.

“People would walk by here and see people in here and think we were busy,” Doak said. “But it was less than half of what’s normal.”

Manitou Springs wasn’t the only place hurting.

When Highway 24 closed to Woodland Park it crippled businesses to the west, said Woodland Park Mayor David Turley.

“We were down 10 percent that last week for sales tax,” he said. “That’s sales tax, now what that means for individual business owners is much bigger.”

Ralph Holloway, who owns Seven Arrows Gallery in Woodland Park said he is struggling.

“My business is down 50 to 60 percent,” he said. “I went a month when no one walked through my door.”

He told Bach he wasn’t sure he would make it if his business wasn’t also leading the Woodland Park Arts Alliance, which helps to support his storefront.

Carol Jourdan, who owns Nice ‘N Naughty in Old Colorado City said she wished there had been more promotion and cheerleading for Old Colorado City businesses right after the fire. While people were encouraged to help Manitou, she said she felt like they forgot that the historic district just east of Manitou also depends on summer tourist traffic to get through the year.

She said her business was down 40 to 50 percent in July and only rebounded in August because of her anniversary sale.

“Everything is not fine,” she said. “It was a huge adjustment because we really count on summer business and it just didn’t happen. And you can’t make it up. It’s just lost.”

Getting through it

Still, Jourdan said she’s had her shop 29 years and loves it.

“I’m in too deep,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

To get through the hard summer, she’s been sending email blasts to regular customers and is making sure to keep fresh inventory in stock. She has stayed open extra hours in order to make the sales. Jourdan has two part-time employees and one full-time employee. But she’s been putting in most of the extra hours herself.

That’s what Catherine Barbo thinks she’ll have to do at her Bon Ton Café in Old Colorado City.

“During the fire, we went down to winter business,” she said.

The restaurant worked with half the staff they usually need in July. When Barbo started the café 18 years ago, she regularly waited tables or cooked so she wouldn’t need as much staff. She hasn’t had to do it much since the Hayman Fire 10 years ago when she said summer business was so slow she had to let staff go and work more herself.

“I’ll probably be waiting tables this winter,” she said.

She’s been advertising some in area newspapers and on the radio.

“I never used to do anything but Dex,” she said.

But it seems to be helping.

Dave Becket, who owns Pizzeria Rustica and Tapateria in Old Colorado City said the summer was terrible. Business was down overall about 25 percent. But he’s been sending promotional material to regular customers and has opened an extra day a week — Tuesdays — at both restaurants. He’s also added a Sunday brunch at Tapateria.

Not just the fire

Most business owners in the tourist communities say they could have handled the fallout from the fire with more grace if things hadn’t already been so bad.

“It’s the fire and the economy,” Holloway said. “It’s not just the fire.”

Merry Jo Larsen, who owns The Cowhand in Woodland Park, said her belt was already pretty tight before the fire.

“People are looking at their expenses and they’re being very cautious,” she said. “You’ll see them want an expensive thing and find some trinket instead.”

Larsen’s family has owned The Cowhand, a western clothing and gift shop, for 47 years.

“We’ve been through three of these downturns,” she said “Sometimes you might have too much to compare it to.”

Business has been slipping every year since the Hayman fire and after the fire this year, they plummeted back to sales figures last seen in the 1960s.

The advantage, she said, was that she was prepared for the downturn because she’s seen them come before.

Next

Dave Van Ness, president of the Old Colorado City Association, said the association is doing what it can to advertise locally that Old Colorado City businesses are open.

“Some are established and positioned to make it through,” he said. “But there will probably be some fatalities in this.”

Woodland Park and Manitou Springs are also advertising regionally to bring Colorado tourists to the region.

Business owners are hopeful the campaigns will succeed and that the holiday season will be strong. It won’t make up for lost summer business, but most are hoping, if they make it, next summer will be a fresh start.

“You can’t predict the future,” Becket said.