Adam Sandler (pictured here with the cooks at Old New York Deli) was one reason why the Deli enjoyed its best holiday season ever this year. As Owner Michael Raimondo said, “He was in here every day.” (Photo: Raimondo)
Businesses survive holidays, but fret about January
Until now the mantra in the Eastern Sierra has been, “the snow will come, it always does.” But as dry day after dry day continues to fill the forecast following a totally dry holiday season, the unutterable question on everyone’s lips isn’t when will the snow come, but will it come? Some business owners are beginning to wonder if just repeating the mantra is going to be enough.
It was a mixed bag for business over the holiday season. Vons was still packed and restaurants such as the Old New York Deli in the Village reported their best holiday season ever this year (perhaps because it was the place Adam Sandler chose to eat during his holiday visit). So to some extent, business was booming.
Giovanni’s Dining Room Manager Jesus “Lalo” Laguna agreed. “People were in town wondering what to do, so they came out to eat.” Giovanni’s fared OK over the holidays according to Laguna. “The snow would help but it’s not making or breaking us.”
Lodging owners in Mammoth claimed that business was pretty good, and those that were here were in a really good mood.
“Numbers may have been down a little but not much,” said Snowcreek’s Director of Operations John Morris.
“People were happy,” said owner of Seasons 4 Teri Stehlik. “With less snow there was less hassle. They didn’t have to put on chains, it was easier to park, and the terrain at the Mountain was perfect for beginners. People also did things they never would have done, whether it was ice skating or going to Yosemite.”
And indeed, Town Recreation Manager Stuart Brown reported this week that the ice rink experienced high demand with 6,941 skaters during the month of December, more than double the 3,383 skaters recorded in December 2009 (the ice rink did not operate in the 2010/11 winter season).
“It was a huge amenity for guests over the holidays,” Brown said. The rink will now be open on Monday evenings because of the high demand, and 40 new pairs of rental skates have been ordered.
But on some of the retail and lodging fronts things weren’t so hot.
Mammoth Pet Shop owner Stephanie Wolff reported that their numbers were way down in December compared to 2010.
“Especially in the first couple weeks,” she said. “The last couple started to pick up speed but crashed pretty quickly after the [holiday] weekend.”
The numbers worry Wolff and her partner Michael Munson. The two have zero staff, other than themselves at this time in order to keep from getting too far adrift, but some things in their business can’t be controlled.
“We know that we are facing a round of price increase on a lot of our foods and it worries me that locals will be struggling over the next few months and will have to compromise what they are feeding their pets,” Wolff said. “If they can’t feed themselves then how can we expect them to be able to feed their pets?”
Robin Hart, owner of the Fern Creek Lodge in June Lake, also said her numbers were way off.
“[My] phone usually rings off the wall starting first of December, I am still waiting on it to ring,” she said. “I am very worried about the current downward trend combined with the lack of snow. This winter so soon on the heels of the winter of 2007 makes me very nervous. I have no contingency plans other than packing my personal belongings. The past 12 years have been fun but I find it increasingly hard in this economy to make ends meet.”
Lodging owners such as Stehlik and Morris, as well as Cheryl Witherill Manager of 1849 Condos, who did OK over the holidays, are more concerned about the month of January. Generally a slow month anyway, a dry January could spell trouble.
“Some people with reservations for the MLK weekend are panicking and want to move their stay to Presidents’ Weekend,” Witherill said.
The Sheet asked Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director, John Urdi, what the Town can market to bring visitors here if there’s no snow to sell.
“We’re really pushing that we have the most open terrain in California and that the skiing is good,” Urdi said. “We are limited but better than most,” he added, citing that the Tahoe resorts were in far worse shape.
“Heavenly only has 195 acres of 4,800 acres open right now,” he said. In contrast, MMSA reported 42 runs open and 442 acres of its 3,500 acres groomed as of Jan. 5.
And indeed, Mammoth Mountain is banking on its snow. This week it released the mid-winter “Snow Guarantee” Pass, available for purchase until Jan. 9. The price of the pass is $299 and it is valid seven days a week from Jan. 9-Feb. 10, but there’s more. Beginning Jan. 4, MMSA is guaranteeing that for every day that goes by until the resort receives a total of 24 inches of new snowfall, it will add another day to your pass for free! Bonus days are simply added to the end of the pass period.
MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory also sent out a letter this week (published on page four) stating that the Mountain plans to keep all the lodges open and to not lay anyone off.
Urdi added that MLT is pushing other activities such as ice-skating at the rink. Over the holidays, MLT produced a list of alternatives activities for guests to enjoy.
Pushing other activities is also plan B for Wolff and Mammoth Pet.
“Honestly, no snow is bad for the water situation in our state, but Mammoth has a lot of activities that do not involve snow which may not be good for the Mountain but businesses in town can still profit off visitors, they just need to be reminded that there is still hiking, skateboarding, biking and climbing,” Wolff said. “Come to Mammoth, bring your dog, they won’t be stuck in a condo, they can go ice skating with you after you ski — that is our contingency plan.”