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December snow could help close tough retail year in Durango

December 15, 2018

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — Shop owners and managers on Durango’s Main Avenue are looking for Christmas shoppers to put in a strong final month to what has been a tough retail year that was pinched by little snow last year, the 416 wildfire, mudslides and more than 40 days of lost train trips to Silverton.

“Snow helps,” said Eric Dixon, general manager at Pine Needle Mountaineering. “We’ve got a whole shop filled with ski jackets, ski pants and ski boots. If there’s no snow falling, there’s no one thinking about that, so we’re excited about the early snow.”

Dixon said the Christmas shopping season is “certainly” starting better than the 2017 season. He told The Durango Herald that he expects a strong season precisely because winter 2017-18 was so dry.

“There’s pent-up enthusiasm. You couldn’t get out last year, so I think people are just excited to be skiing again,” he said.

This year, a San Juan National Forest wildfire, dubbed the 416 fire, charred hundreds of thousands of acres (hectares), prompted thousands of evacuations and forced a shutdown of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that generates millions of dollars in tourist spending.

Heavy rains caused flooding and debris that closed roads in charred areas. The fire began June 1 and was declared extinguished by the U.S. National Forest Service in late November. The Forest Service has not said what caused the fire, and it has been tight-lipped about its investigation

Tiffany Seely, who co-owns Kids Rock, said the shop suffered when the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad could not make runs to Silverton.

“On September 21, when the train started running again, it was like a light switch turned on. We picked up. It was cool to hear the toot of the whistle for the first time,” she said.

So far, Kids Rock is about on par for Christmas sales in 2017, but like Dixon, Seely expects a strong December, and agrees that snow helps get people in the holiday shopping mode.

Jen Brown, co-owner of Artesanos, said sales are up slightly from 2017, but foot traffic is down, which she blames on the lack of tourists.

Brown said it is too early to judge the strength of the Christmas sales season, which typically gets going with Noel Night in Durango. This year’s Noel Night was Dec. 7.

Sylvia Bedwell, at Kids Rock, said this year’s Noel Night was the “best ever,” something that is helpful with the rough summer the town had.

“But, we’re the toy store, so we kind of do a little better than most,” Bedwell said. “We’ve been here a long time.”

Joyful Nook Gallery, which has been open for a little over a year, picked a difficult time to set up shop, said Jacqueline Hess, project engineer at the gallery, which features custom-made puzzles based on paintings from local artists, stationery, cards and specialty papers.

Christmas 2017-18, the only holiday season the store has been open, is tough to use as a baseline because so few tourists were in town with the lack of snow, she said.

“We’re on Main Avenue, which is tourists-based, but more locals are finding out about us,” she said. “We’re hopeful for the season. It’s snowing, and that just helps the general morale.”

While this year’s Noel Night proved bountiful for Joyful Nook Gallery, the business still has a long way to go to make up for what was lost because of the fallout from the 416 fire, said Joy Hess, co-owner.

Megan Sanders, store manager at Crow’s Closet, said the clothing store has worked hard to build a local following, and that paid off this year with sales that are slightly ahead of 2017.

The store has a frequent-buyer card, and that has helped build a loyal local base, she said.

“During the fire, we had regulars saying they were buying from us instead of online to help support us,” she said.

But the store still depends on tourists, particularly in December, so Sanders said she’s happy to see snow this year.

“It brings in the Texans,” she said.

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Information from: Durango Herald, http://www.durangoherald.com

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