Last call for the Ponderosa?
INCLINE VILLAGE – As the Ponderosa Ranch opened Saturday for what is likely its final season, business owners pondered the impact of the tourist attraction’s loss to the local economy.
“Of course it’ll impact businesses in the town,” said Joe Marson, owner of North Shore’s Grog and Grist. “During the months between May and September, my business is double, sometimes triple what it is during the rest of the year.”
Negotiations are under way between the new owners of the property and government entities to transfer the land to public ownership.
Marson, who has owned his store for 27 years, said the area will lose more than just business with the absence of the some-250,000 visitors to the ranch each season.
“The property tax roll will also take a hit if the ranch were to come into government ownership. And the cost to the taxpayers to make this purchase will also be felt,” Marson said.
But Potlatch owner Lynn McGinty doesn’t see the closing of the ranch as much of a threat to her business.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it will affect us up here as much as it will those businesses on the South Shore,” McGinty said. “We have a different type of clientele in Incline and I don’t think it’s a real Ponderosa crowd.”
McGinty admits she usually visits the ranch at least once a year. “I take my daughter and it’s really nice, but I think that if they planned on continuing, they’d have to add some attractions to draw younger people.”
Dilys Evans, owner of Tahoe Cottage Inn for 43 years, said the ranch is very popular with Europeans.
“We seem to get a lot of people from Europe. They want to know what to do. I tell them about the Ponderosa and they don’t know what I’m talking about. I say, ‘Do you watch “Bonanza?” ‘ They say ‘Yeah, yeah.’ Then they know what I’m talking about,” Evans said. “Not so much the local people. People living here locally may go there once, and that’s enough.”
Melodie Best, manager of Travelodge Stateline in South Lake Tahoe, said she has the Ponderosa brochures in her rack of tourist attractions. She said it is kind of slow right now, but in the summer, it is always busy.
“That’s one of the main things that we recommend to do. Especially a lot of Europeans want to know about it.” Best said. “We sing them the song and they want to go and see it. It will affect tourism so I guess it will affect our business.”
Jim Jeffers of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Chamber of Commerce said that more than revenue will be lost to the area once the ranch is sold. “Let’s face it. The ranch is a big draw,” he said. “But more than that, we’ll be losing a real part of our history.”
Jeffers said the ranch became a gathering place for many area events, like the chamber’s annual chili cookoff. “Besides the community, the chamber has received several calls from around the country from people who are changing vacation plans to come to the ranch for one last time.”
Even though the chamber is behind the sale, if it goes as proposed, Jeffers said there’s more to the ranch than dollars. “There is definitely an emotional attachment to the Ponderosa, and I think that the biggest fear of the local residents is that it could be sold to developers,” Jeffers said.
Bill Hoffman of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau said the area has to adapt. “Obviously, whatever is put in that spot will mean a drop in tourism initially,” Hoffman said. “But I think that over time, a whole new tourist base can be established here.”
Hoffman hopes the vision of what the Ponderosa will become will be clear-cut.
“I just hope that we can be in on some of the planning so that we can help when it comes to the tourist business in the area,” Hoffman said.
Marson, who is selling his business, said that while the deal won’t affect him, “I’m speaking out for all the other businesses who will be hurt by this. They have every right to sell. It’s just that there will be implications to the local business community and people have to realize that.”
– Staff writer Jo Rafferty contributed to this story.