COVID-19 affected the Eastern Sierra economy in a variety of ways. Bridgeport, for example, was hit in an entirely different way than other Eastern Sierra town.
The economy in Bridgeport experiences trends and cycles unlike Mammoth Lakes, or even Bishop for that matter. All are tourism-based economies but due to the nature of the recreation available, all have different business cycles.
“Our season runs from the fishing opener to the end of October,” said Erinn Wells, “When everything was closed we were clawing to get to the end [of the quarantine], and now we are doing what we can to make up for the lost business.”
Wells owns the Walker River Lodge, The Silver Maple Inn, and The Cain House in Bridgeport.
The fishing season was set to start in late April. For Bridgeport, this is an essential time of the year simply due to the thousands of anglers that regularly visit the Eastern Sierra, and more specifically, Bridgeport.
“I know Mammoth and June are bursting at the seams with visitors, but that is not happening in North County. Well, at least not in the motel/sit-down restaurants,” said Wells in an email to The Sheet, “In July my numbers at the Lodge were down 15% and so far in August we are still down over 15%. My numbers at the Silver Maple and Cain House are dismal, down 35% in July and August doesn’t look much better.”
John Peters, Mono County District 4 Supervisor and General Manager of the Bridgeport Inn, has also experienced a less than stellar business cycle. “We are about 35% down in business on the lodging side. For the bar, down at least 20%. All in all, I can tell you we are down 50% on the year.”
Peters mentioned that since opening the month by month revenue is down about 20%. The cumulative 50% dropoff is more of reflection of the quarantine rather than the slow summer.
In addition to the delayed fishing opener and the quarantine, Peters had more insight into why these numbers are down. “The ‘35% down in lodging’ is directly related to the European market not being there.”
The lack of international travelers has hit lodging particularly hard. But this effect ripples throughout the entire community.
Less foot traffic. Less discretionary income in Bridgeport. Fourth of July was down. Almost everything is down.
“The Town is extremely busy for what is going on [in the world],” said Will Clayton, owner of the brand new ‘Growlers’ eatery in Bridgeport.
Growlers is ‘basically a food truck’ according to Clayton. This isn’t the end goal of the eatery but for now there is a takeout window at the front which appears to be working.
“Business has been great,” Clayton said of Growlers which opened June 19, “More than we thought we were going to get, for sure.”
But when it came to the overall trends, Clayton agreed it was a down year.
“It has been slow in general,” he said. “Definitely slower than a normal summer.”
“We just have to hope for the best,” said Wells discussing what the shoulder season means for the Town.
Which is another reason Bridgeport is different from Mammoth. The Town’s economy is that of a squirrel. They scavenge and collect as much they can during the summer boom and then hunker down during winter time.
This means businesses have to save a certain amount of money to get through the winter.
“I have to pay my employees, property taxes, rent, everything. It all adds up,” said Wells as she mentioned how many businesses/ lodges simply close their doors in the winter.
“Everybody has to dig in. Do everything they can to maximize revenues while we have the opportunity. Because when it gets cold… it shuts off the revenue stream,” said Peters.
He added: “A lot of what we are hearing, this tourism surge, that there are too many people in the area. June Lake is overcrowded. Mammoth with the garbage situation. That doesn’t apply to everyone in Mono County. We have had very few nights with no vacancy signs in Bridgeport.”
When The Sheet visited Ken’s Sporting Goods, a front-of-house worker named Ray Robles told The Sheet, “We are too busy to talk. Just write down, ‘business has been good.’”