Mammoth’s summer economy: out of the 2021 frying pan and into… something a bit more normal.
“This summer was manageable,” said Brandon Brocia, owner and operator of Bleu Market & Kitchen and The EATery at Mammoth Brewing Company. “Last year was out of control… I don’t think anyone really expected that kind of volume.” Last April, looser COVID restrictions and closed international borders caused many to vacation locally. Floods of tourists overwhelmed many of the businesses in Mammoth.
“This summer was a lot less hectic. But it was, I think, quite affected by the economic vibe of the nation right now, with inflation and things like that,” Brocia said. His more casual restaurant – The EATery – did pretty well.
Bleu didn’t do as much business: “I don’t think people felt like they had as much disposable income to get nicer things – going a little casual felt more reasonable for the guests that we saw.” Despite this, business was still steady. “It felt like a normal summer, that’s for sure,” Brocia said.
Brocia took note of the inflation and adjusted The EATery’s menu pricing going into the summer. “Did I adjust it enough? Probably not. But if I didn’t make any adjustments, I would have eaten a lot more of the cost differences,” said Brocia.
While occupancy reports can paint a brushstroke of what to expect for a business – how many people have checked in and out of lodges and condos – these reports don’t represent the entire lodging community. Brocia considers these reports when he makes schedules and places orders, but a lot of restaurant operation decisions have to be made week to week or day by day.
“We don’t really have amazing tools up here to predict how things are going,” Brocia said. He keeps an eye on pricing, tries to get good market information from his vendors, and shops around as much as he can.
Brocia is expecting the fall shoulder season to be normal. As for the winter: “It’s super variable, unpredictable,” Brocia told The Sheet. IKON Pass sales have been robust, which is a good sign. Now, it’s just up to the snowfall. Brocia hopes for the Goldilocks ratio – enough to bring people to town; not too much to keep them from coming.
Brocia’s businesses are up about 10% over 2019. Steady growth. He doesn’t take in the skewed data from 2020 and 2021. Outliers.
Matthew Lehman, broker for Matthew Lehman Real Estate, has seen business slow due to the increase in federal interest rates. Higher rates means fewer people can afford houses. To sell, prices must be lowered.
“To be honest with you, I think we’re gonna see some continued slowing,” Lehman said. But, he can’t say for sure. “We hope it’ll continue to at least be steady. That’s all I really ask for,” he said. He’s got a good crew. He’s diversified. He’s saving. Things should be alright.
The owner and operator of Kittredge Sports, Tom Cage, admitted that business was down a little bit this summer: “June was actually up. July was down. And if I had to guess, I think August is going to be pretty flat, maybe down a little bit.”
When gas prices and inflation are considered, this makes sense. “It’s not that it costs $50 more to drive from LA to here and back again,” Cage said. “It’s that people are being charged more for gas in LA every single day. It’s the $200 a week they’re having to pay in additional gas cost.” That type of burden deters tourists from visiting, which hurts business.
Cage also raised his prices because of inflation. Still, he’s thankful he could even get product into his doors. “The supply chain is still an issue – not everything is available, but it’s better. And we’re thankful it’s better. But it costs more.”
As for the upcoming winter season, Cage said it’ll depend on the snow. “We’ll be ready. The mountain does a great job at making snow, which brings customers.” Cage will convert the store over for winter season recreation. He’s already seeing products arriving at Kittredge.
John Urdi, Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, shared that TBID revenue for July was the second best for the month of July since 2013, when the TBID started. TBID – tourism business improvement district – is a tax that businesses pass along to customers. The money made from the tax goes back to Mammoth Lakes Tourism to fund their marketing efforts. In restaurants and retail, the tax is 1.5% on a bill. Lodging: 1%. 2% on lift tickets.
Going into fall, Urdi expects to see tourists coming up to escape the heat and enjoy the mountains. Falling gas prices will also bring tourists who couldn’t afford to travel in the summer. Occupancy reports for the weekends are showing 50-60%, which is good news.
“Businesses are not where they were last year, because last year was crazy,” Urdi said. “But, I’ve talked to a couple of different restaurants, and they’re like, ‘You know what, we’re still making good money, but we’re not overwhelmed.’ It’s like this summer was a little bit of a breather for people after last year’s ridiculous busyness.”