Businesses feeling pinch from low snowpack
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – While this winter’s unusually dry weather relented last week with several feet of snow falling during the weekend, businesses in South Lake Tahoe aren’t breathing easy just yet.
With low snow levels bringing less visitor traffic to the region than usual for this time of year, various sectors of business have felt the impact in different ways.
In his third year at The Village Board Shop, manager Ben Overstreet said business is “very low, down a lot, more than 50 percent.”
A ski and snowboard gear and apparel retailer, The Village normally sees peak business throughout the holiday season and in the weeks after, according to Overstreet. The store also offers ski and snowboard equipment rentals.
“The only day that we’ve been busy was this last Sunday,” said Overstreet. “Mainly goggles, gloves, beanies, we had a lot of people looking for low-light goggles. We sold a lot of snowboards also, full set-ups. I think we sold about six.”
Jacob Bender, buyer for Tahoe Sports Ltd. at Stateline, has also seen a corresponding dip in business with the low snow levels.
“We kind of missed our whole holiday, so our momentum just isn’t there. It sort of stabilized the second week of January, but we’re still down about 30 percent day to day from last year,” said the eight-year South Shore resident. “If we’re not busy this weekend, I think it’ll probably be this slow the rest of the season.”
South Shore retailers appear to have been hit harder than national snow sports retailers. The snow sports market recorded $2.2 billion in sales for the season through December, which is down 2.2 percent from the same period a year ago, according to SnowSports Industries America research director Kelly Davis.
Sales through November had been up from last season, which ended with a record $3.3 billion in sales, but then came low snowfall in December, or what Davis called “six weeks of hell.”
“It’s pretty hard to do business in snow when there is no snow,” she said at the annual SIA Snow Show convention in Denver.
The lower-than-average snow also has affected resort visits. In Colorado, the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA said skier visits at its 22 member resorts through Dec. 31 were down 10.65 percent from the same period last year. Vail Resorts Inc. has said early-season visits to its four Colorado resorts and two in the Lake Tahoe area are down 15.3 percent overall from last year.
Vacation property rentals in Tahoe have been suffering in similar fashion, but saw a definite uptick after last week’s storm.
“Martin Luther King weekend was light compared to last year by about 25 percent,” said Chris Chandler, manager at Coldwell Banker Vacation Rentals. “February right now is down about 50 percent from last year. The numbers are shy of what they should be, but are picking up fast with snow. This last week has been triple what we had a few weeks ago. That definitely could be attributed to the recent snowfall.”
Time share occupancies are also below seasonal norms.
“Because we’re a time share, all of our reservations are usually filled from Christmas through May,” said Pam Bricker, manager of Royal Aloha Vacation Club on Kingsbury Grade. “During the holidays we were full up, but our occupancy is only about two thirds full at the moment.”
For Coldwell Banker Realtor Monique Mcintyre however, there is still cause for optimism.
“Normally right after January first, things slow down,” said Mcintyre. “But now that it’s snowed, I’m busy, and the phones have been ringing off the hook.”
Although she noted a discernible decrease in “floor calls”, real estate shorthand for walk-in shoppers, Mcintyre identified low market prices as a reason to remain upbeat.
“Rates are amazing for first homebuyers. To find a cabin for under $100,000? We haven’t seen prices like these since the 70’s,” said the 32-year resident. “I think it’s going to be a really good year. People are saying ‘we have to buy in Tahoe before prices go up again.'”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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