Surviving the Smoke |

Surviving the Smoke

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunNeva West from Truckee stopped by Tahoe City Kayak company to check out the stores big sale before taking lunch Wednesday.

In the midst of nationwide economic woes, skyrocketing fuel prices and low consumer confidence, the majority of Tahoe-Truckee business owners say smoky skies were the only element to cast a cloud over summer sales.The onset of the summer had boat and watercraft dealers holding their breath, waiting to see if business would be caught in the undertow of the economy, but Independence Day proved to be a turning point for many in the industry.It was a slower start to the summer and the smoke didnt help, but after the Fourth, sales picked up and the month of August was great, said Scott Worl, general manager of Cope andamp; McPhetres Marine in Tahoe City.While high gas prices didnt cause boat sales to sink, they may have contributed to a surge in kayak and paddle board sales, said Harry King, owner of Enviro-rents on the North Shore.Sales were up quite a bit this summer, King said. My theory is people may have been kayaking more than boating due to high gas prices.Record prices at the pump also caused Tahoe Basin motorists to hit the brakes this summer and look for alternative modes of transportation like bicycling, supplying bike shops like Kings with a boost in business.I definitely noticed more locals commuting this summer, King said. Our sales were up as far as bike tires and bike accessories. Andrew Laughlin, owner of Tahoe City Kayak, said not all kayak retailers fared as well with sales at his store down 40 percent and kayak tours down 60 percent. We almost went out of business this summer, said Laughlin, whose shop has been in business for 12 years. Gas prices, the low economy, the apocalyptic ash that fell from the sky and the low turnover in the housing market were all contributing factors.The smoky skies that blanketed the region during June caused more customers to cancel kayak tours than any other year, and even when the smoke gave way to bluebird skies in July, revenue stayed down, Laughlin said.On a normal Fourth of July, we usually sell eight to nine kayaks. This year we sold one, Laughlin said. Weve sold more kayaks over the last two-and-a-half weeks than we sold all season, but its at a discounted price, so were not really making anything.Downtown Truckee retailers also reported sluggish sales this summer when compared to past seasons, but events like Truckee Thursdays and the Tour de Nez did bolster business bank accounts, said Stefanie Olivieri, president of the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association. The economic climate is definitely challenging, Olivieri said. Truckee Thursdays was positive for downtown bars and restaurants … more than anything, it brought the community together.For other clothing retailers in North Tahoe and Truckee, it took more than a few community events to stimulate business, and many relied on Internet sales to keep revenue steady. Online sales have been growing considerably over the last four years, said Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports in Kings Beach. We wouldnt be in business if we didnt have our Web site.In addition to being a lucrative outlet, Internet sales also allow Polivy to offer a wider range product selection in his store, which in turn draws in clientele, he said. While the nation seemed plagued by home foreclosures and a weak housing market, vacation rentals in the Truckee-Tahoe area dodged the housing-slump bullet, said Jim Winterberger, managing partner of Tahoe Getaways a Tahoe City-based property management company.The downturn in home sales actually created an upturn in our market, Winterberger said. More second homeowners were renting their property out due to the lack in market sales.More European travelers journeyed across the pond this summer, filling up vacation rentals and boosting sales for business owners, Winterberger said. In addition, a new ad campaign marketing North Lake Tahoe as a resort destination to cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento brought greater recognition to the region, said Andy Chapman, director of tourism for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. In Los Angeles, 67 percent of those who saw the print ads and 71 percent of those who saw the TV ads indicated they were likely to visit North Lake Tahoe as a result of seeing the respective ads, Chapman said of a study gauging the effectiveness of the campaign. But the big question this season was whether record-high gas prices would deter summer travelers, and many business owners say the answer is just the opposite. Rather than taking trips to vacation destinations like Hawaii and Florida, residents from surrounding metropolitan cities like Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco chose to get more bang for the buck by traveling to the nearby Tahoe Basin, Winterberger said. People love Tahoe and theyre not going to stop coming because of high gas prices, Winterberger said. Were in the backyard of several fairly affluent demographics … and gas prices arent going to keep them from making the short drive up.

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