Some Ouray County businesses expand hours, stay open for winter
by Erin McIntyre and Mike Wiggins
The leaves have yellowed and dropped, fresh snow blankets the off-road trails and the hordes of tourists have returned home. It's the seasonal cue for many Ouray County business owners to reduce staff and close up shop for days, weeks or even months.
But as the calendar turns to November, more than a handful of entrepreneurs here are bucking the trend, instead adding hours and days of operations in order to keep valuable employees they might otherwise lose, meet the demand of full-time residents and try to shake off the off-season dormancy that has long defined this part of the San Juans.
Ridgway’s Eatery 66 has decided to add hours instead of cutting back for the winter, and will serve lunch for the first winter since it first opened.
It's also trimming its traditional shoulder-season closing and won’t close for the month of November for the first time since the restaurant opened. The restaurant will close from Nov. 24 to Dec. 6 this year, allowing the owners and employees a short break during a slower time around Thanksgiving. The shortening of the restaurant’s annual break is a trend that has happened over the years.
For its first three years in Ridgway, Eatery 66 closed for the winters because it operated out of the Airstream trailer out in front of the current restaurant at 520 Sherman St. However, owners Katie and Spencer Graves always had a goal of moving into a building with a more permanent schedule, and hoped to also provide something more permanent for patrons and their employees.
Since moving into the building in 2017, the owners have shortened the breaks and made the restaurant more year-round.
The owners previously lived in Telluride and were used to taking time off in November and April, following the ski season and having an “off-season mentality,” Katie Graves said. But that came with a price.
“It’s hard on the employees to try to take that much time off,” she said. “It’s hard for everybody to re-open a business once you close for that amount of time.”
Graves also cited a more constant business from patrons as a reason to keep the restaurant open. Locals have generally provided more dinner customers over the years, while visitors tended to frequent the eatery at lunchtime in the summer. Now that will be available in the winter, too.
“It’s important that we maintain consistency… so we’re not this drive-through winter town,” she said.
“There’s not really much of an off-season anymore,” she said. “It’s not just ski bums hanging out, it’s more year-round residents, families who live here.”
Graves said some of the decision came from wanting to be a hub in the center of Ridgway, and keeping the doors open for those who might otherwise just keep driving. She said she and her husband also feel it's "part of our duty" to keep their employees paid. Eatery 66 employs a total of 11 people, four of whom are full-time.
At this point the restaurant plans on opening for lunch and dinner, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. from Thursday to Tuesday, and from 5 to 8:30 p.m. from Thursday to Monday. The restaurant will close on Tuesday nights and all day Wednesday.
Ultimately, Eatery 66’s owners hope to be a regular gathering place, year-round, and they want to have a predictable schedule for locals.
“Maybe there’s a little bit of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ ” she said.
Graves acknowledged that approach can be difficult, because "without people coming in the door, you're just kind of bleeding."
The overhead of paying employees, ordering food that might spoil if it doesn’t get ordered and just keeping the doors open has a cost.
“But that’s kind of the sacrifice we’re willing to make at this time," she said.
A few hundred feet to the south, the Ridgway True Value is open on Sundays for the first time in at least a decade, according to store manager Stephen Laster.
Laster said he asked customers what they'd like to see from the store when he took over as manager in June. Their top priority? Being able to shop on Sundays.
"This store has always been a part of this community, and it just seemed like the right thing to do," he said.
Oct. 26 marked the third Sunday True Value has been open. Laster acknowledged the first two Sundays were slow, but business was pretty steady on the third Sunday.
Laster said contractors comprise True Value's core customer base. But he said the store also wants to reach the do-it-yourself crowd and others whose first thought might otherwise be trekking to Montrose. Keeping that business in Ridgway not only benefits True Value, but the sales-tax coffers of the town and Ouray County.
"We want them to think of this as their store," he said.
At the Timberline Deli in Ouray, owner Cathy Warren isn't expanding so much as adjusting her business hours. For the last five years, the deli was open every day for breakfast except for a stretch in November, as she fulfilled contracts to provide daily breakfast to a couple local hotels. This year, with those contracts no longer in effect, the deli will be open for breakfast and lunch Thursday through Saturday through the winter.
Troy and Penny Crosson, who hope to finalize their purchase of the Ouray KOA in January, are keeping the campground open for the winter for the first time in its history. The Crossons have been working at the KOA since April as part of their training to become the new owners, took over full management of the KOA on Oct. 16 and decided to keep the business open for the winter, with the hope of filling the cabins with reservations.
Though freezing temperatures and snows make RV travel difficult in the winter, the cabins will still be cozy for winter and some have full bathrooms and partial kitchens. Though the Creekside Cafe is closed for the season, it will reopen in the springtime and will continue to serve Texas mesquite barbecue.
Some businesses are banking on serving visitors who come for winter activities, including ice climbing, local Nordic and backcountry ski trails, hot springs soaking, and the San Juan Skijoring competition, in which skiers or snowboarders are pulled by horses.
The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce is campaigning for tourists to visit Ouray County this year, using marketing grants from the Colorado Tourism Office awarded this fall. The Ouray County Off-Peak Season Marketing Campaign received $10,000 specifically to market stronger visitation over the winter months.
Part of the goal of evening out the revenue across the year is to make it easier for businesses to retain employees and plan for a slower time of year instead of closing completely.
The chamber is also part of a $25,000 grant from the state tourism office to market the Colorado Creative Corridor, shared with Paonia, Crested Butte, Carbondale and Salida. That funding is being used to market the Ridgway Creative District to potential year-round visitors, as well as the creative districts in the other four communities.
The whole idea is to encourage a more steady stream of visitors to come to Ouray County, not just for the summer months but also for what’s traditionally been considered the shoulder season and for the winter.