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Economy remains a challenge to business

December failed to fulfill the fantasy of many in the South Lake Tahoe business community.

“It seemed business was a little off. Calls were down at the chamber. I would call it a soft start to the new year,” said Duane Wallace, executive director for the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce. “Most properties were full but not full with tons of people trying to get into the properties.”

Fantasy Inn, for example, experienced its worst month since it opened a decade ago. Bookings were down 40 percent.



“It was a bleak December. People booked at the last minute and didn’t stay as long,” said Jim Foff, who runs the Highway 50 hotel.

Foff points to one contributing factor: a poor economy.




“We saw this coming. We have nothing to blame but the economy,” he said, adding the new city-induced raise in the transient occupancy tax hasn’t been a factor. “And January looks as bad, and we’ve been doing the same marketing we’ve been doing forever.”

Paul Gardner, who helps run Tahoe Keys Resort and Inn at Heavenly among other accommodations, has noticed the same drop in bookings for January — expanding the disappointment into February.

Like Foff, Gardner has seen a drop in the destination visitor who stays longer. Consequently, he’s dropped his minimum night stay, with the mainstay feeder markets keeping the business afloat.

“We don’t have the people calling from Ireland and England,” he said. “We’re a little lighter than last year.”

With the exception of a good holiday for the Black Bear Inn, bookings have presented a bit of a roller coaster ride for many lodging establishments. This includes the Holiday Inn Express.

“Christmas week started slower than we would have liked. Then it heated up amazingly, and we ran full New Year’s Day and subsequent days (through Jan. 4),” he said, however adding that December overall proved disappointing for his hotel. “(The holiday was) a mixed bag, and I’m grateful for that.”

Other companies in town experienced an ebb and flow of business.

Marie Callenders Manager Ron Ray said the pie business sustained the company through Christmas, while the restaurant was slow. The eatery picked up on the following weekend with a young crowd through the New Year’s holiday, followed by an older customer base this past weekend.

“We did OK. We’re up a slight 10 percent from last year, but we’re definitely in a recession if you compare last December to the previous one,” Ray said.

Alpen Sierra Coffee Co. showed a similar increase in December, up 12 percent.

Within that period, the coffee roasting business enjoyed a record day Christmas Eve as temperatures dropped, snow fell and foot traffic from the Park Avenue complex picked up.

For retail on the other side of town, Kmart Manager Charlie Roome said the mass merchandiser squeaked by its December crunch with a one-half percent increase over last year.

“As soon as the roads were clear, we had people in here,” Roome said of the motorists’ challenge on Highway 50 after the snow dumps. Shoppers came into the “Y” location to buy tire chains and snow shovels with their holiday gifts.

“The bottom line is, we’re making money for the company, and we’re not doing it by gouging the customer,” he said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com


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