Businesses glad for the business |

Businesses glad for the business

Jenifer Ragland

This weekend, South Shore restaurants had waiting lists, there were lines at the ski resorts and it was difficult to find a spot on a roulette or craps table late in the evening at any of the four Stateline casinos.

And this was a good thing – for the South Lake Tahoe economy, that is.

With the opening of U.S. Highway 50 on Friday, the tourism lifeblood was flowing through the veins of the South Lake Tahoe community once again.

Local business owners reported a marked difference in the amount of people in town for an average, non-holiday weekend.

“Friday night was much busier than normal – the highway opening made a real difference,” said Mike Ford, manager of Paramount Ski & Snowboard Shop, 3542 Highway 50.

He said business was hurting from the 27-day closure, primarily because of the lack of weekend crowds.

“Especially on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, when people are coming in for the weekend, I’d say we were more than 50 percent down,” he said.

But now that the vital artery is up and running, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed it will stay that way.

A massive mudslide near White Hall closed the highway Jan. 24, after being open only one week due to the New Year’s Day floods.

Highway 50 is the South Shore’s main link to the Sacramento Valley and the Bay Area, and most of the traffic comes from day- and weekend-trip visits. It was estimated that tourism-related businesses lost more than $40 million in revenue as a result of the closure.

Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, with 70 percent of business dependent on the highway, was among the hardest hit.

This weekend, however, Marketing Director Ted Austin was singing a different tune.

“We were thrilled to feel as though we’re on our way back,” he said. “There was a heck of a lot more action around here than there has been on other weekends.”

However, Austin said he expects numbers to be even higher in the coming weeks as families can find out the road is open and have more time to plan a ski trip.

“The road opening, as wonderful as it was, was too quick so I think a lot of people couldn’t make changes to come up with their families,” he said. “I know singles and couples without children can make decisions fairly easily, but families, which this place relies on, could have already made plans.”

Smaller lodging businesses that saw a drastic drop in room sales over the past two months also reported an increase this weekend.

“Friday night we had no business, probably only one room filled,” said Jeff Potter, an employee at Sunshine Inn Motel, 1184 Emerald Bay Road. “But last night all but a couple were filled. We really depend on the highway.”

Jean Draxton, owner Green Lantern Motel, said she thought a lot more visitors chose the South Shore over the North Shore for skiing.

“It was a much better weekend compared to weekends in January,” she said. “Business has definitely picked up since the highway has opened. The neighbors I’ve talked to seem to be pretty happy about this weekend.”

The highway reopening was felt in almost every facet of town and the food service industry was no exception.

“It was a good weekend,” said George Moraida, manager of the Cantina, State Route 89 and 10th Street. “I would say business picked up about 20 percent from when the road was closed.”

At Red Hut Waffle Shop, 2723 Highway 50, business was also up considerably.

“We noticed a huge difference – it’s been great,” said Nancy Gardner, owner. “We’re thankful, and we pray the road stays open.”

John Packer, spokesman for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, said visitor counts were expected to increase drastically with the reopening of Highway 50.

“I think there’s a pent-up demand for people who didn’t take the alternative routes, and who said ‘I’ll just wait until the road opens again,'” Packer said Friday. “It means a lot.”

However, he said the job of marketing South Lake Tahoe is far from over.

“We have to get people used to the idea that the highway is open and that it’s safe – that it’s not gonna go down again,” he said. “Just because it’s open today, a lot of people still don’t understand. We need to keep it up.”

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