Businesses have up-and-down winter |

Businesses have up-and-down winter

Susan Wood

Sorensen’s Resort owner John Brissenden did something a week ago that he’s done only one other time in 23 years in business. He sent out a direct mailer to 21,000 guests to boost business in March and April.

“The last quarter was down considerably,” Brissenden said Wednesday of last October through December. “We’ve grown for 23 years in a row, but last year we didn’t. I’m sure we just need to get the consumer’s attention.”

With a lackluster winter, some businesses like Sorensen’s have increased efforts to ensure the visitors keep coming.

January and February surged, but not enough to suit the Alpine County businessman going into the tough shoulder season, which is right around the corner once the snow melts on the ski slopes.

“I think a skittishness about the economy and the deficit to our main draw, the Bay Area, has had a chilling effect for April, and it’s tax season,” he said.

In South Lake Tahoe, Greta Hambsch – who runs the Accommodation Station – uses the number of vehicles passing her office window as a barometer to a slower-than-desirable March. The dropoff comes after a banner Presidents Day weekend, which filled 89 of the 90 units she manages and rents out.

“I’m seeing very few cars. Looking out, it’s just amazing there aren’t more this time of year with the great snow. We’re not breaking any records,” Hambsch said. “It reinforces to me the need for marketing. There’s so much heavy competition.”

That’s precisely what the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority had in mind.

As a means to keep up the momentum, the lake’s tourism agency plans to spend $25,000 to target its flagship market – the Northern California drive-up visitor. It asked lodging properties to participate at $200 a pop.

LTVA Executive Director Patrick Kaler will soon bring final plans to his board on the number of cooperative partners and media. The idea is to use radio, public relations and the Internet as vehicles.

“The feedback we got was that February was pretty good, but March was looking lean,” LTVA Chairman Tim Smith said. “Some people see Presidents Day weekend as the end of the season, and we say: ‘Don’t write off Tahoe.'”

In addition, LTVA’s Central Reservations line has picked up a little bit in the last three weeks, according to Andy Chapman, spokesman for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. It runs the phone line.

To Inn By the Lake General Manager Dan McHale, that’s enough to throw out the welcome mat with its best showing. He’s opted to participate in the LTVA campaign. McHale has seen a steady number of reservations come in for the spring, but he’s not taking any chances in the competitive game of tourism.

“February has been good, but we’re hoping for some midweek business. Of course, it’s not as strong as we’d like,” McHale said. “It helps that the snow conditions are so great.”

For when they show up, McHale will be ready with more amenities this spring.

The Inn has beefed up its breakfast bar to include more food with protein and installed a fitness center with at least a dozen Nautilus machines. All the rooms have been equipped with microwaves, and the suites have received upgrades.

“It’s a real motivator for us. I think that’s true for everything,” he said, while swinging open the door of one of the suite’s new stainless steel doors.

It’s difficult to say all businesses in town are up or down, with some doing better than others at different points in time.

Paul Nanzig, Rainbow Mountain manager, has seen a recent uptick in the last month. The Ski Run Boulevard retailer and rental shop has seen a number of skiers diverted from the Rockies and the Northwest to Tahoe. As it turns out, the business is up over last year at this time. He declined to say by how much.

“We saw losses since the (Heavenly) gondola opened, but in spite of that, we’re experiencing a gain this season,” he said. “I attribute it to the marketing and the parking.”

It appears that with less parking available near Stateline, some skiers have opted to park at the California Base Lodge and stop to rent equipment along the way.

“It works in our favor to have a horrible parking situation there,” he said.

Then again, Stateline-area businesses may be holding their own.

Gaming wins for the casinos in 2004 were up about 1 percent, and chef Ed Papke at the Chart House on Kingsbury Grade said business has been “awesome” with the snow conditions.

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