Sunday Commerce

Many tents at a festival campsite
Not anywhere near Gunnison, but this is what it looks like when Ride the Rockies comes to town.

Today may be the official start to summer in Gunnison, and I’m undecided what to do about it.

It’s June 9, normally a fairly unremarkable day. And usually we in the commerce sector of Gunnison regard Memorial Day, when the first “sidewalk sale” of the year takes place, as the “official” start to our summer of tourists. Other people mark the solstice as the start (even though it’s listed as “mid”) of summer. Weatherwise, this year, we may have had two days that might be considered summer-ish.

Today, however, marks the start of the annual Ride the Rockies bicycle tour. That’s not necessarily a date we hold dear in Gunnison, except that this year we’re the receiving town for the first day. And the start town is Crested Butte, just up the road.

For many years now, decades, the Denver Post has sponsored this annual rite of summer, where people pay money to ride in a giant group of cyclists around the western two-thirds of the state. The eastern third is probably too flat, too hot and too windy to make it a fun cycling destination, although the Post now offers a three-day Pedal the Plains sometime in the fall.

Ride the Rockies seems to like coming to Gunnison; the event sets up camp here often. And I do mean camp: many of the cyclists camp their way through the week-long event, and when they’re in Gunnison suddenly the middle school football field sprouts a panoply of tents.

The first year, way back, this ride came to Gunnison, riders were arriving at the college (yes, now it’s a university) gymnasium. I had driven there in my pick-up for some newspaper-related reason, and I spent the afternoon loading cyclists and their bicycles into my truck to take them to their motels. (Believe it or not, I turned down all the tips I was offered.)

Now, some 30 years later, the Post has this down to a science: they truck in showers mounted on semis, and large motor-coaches run repeated routes from the school campground to downtown. The host city is encouraged to pull out the stops with a food court and evening entertainment, and Gunnison is always quick to oblige.

This year Gunnison has opted away from the school to a park clear across town. It’s less a park than a complex: it’s also where we have a pond, our covered ice rink and our indoor ice rink. The covered rink will serve as the food court/beer garden. Buses will still run from there to downtown, and here is my dilemma.

Today is Sunday, and Pat’s Screen Printing is not normally open on Sunday. This being our busy season, we do have a printer coming in today to work. But perhaps we should have some sense of obligation about being open to give all these bicyclists, many of whom are followed in cars by family members, some entertainment.

Make no mistake, this is not actually about commerce. I mean, it’s intended to be, and several area businesses should see a boost from this tour. It’s a double-whammy this time, because the cyclists start this morning in Crested Butte, take an extra-convoluted yet extra-scenic route to Gunnison, ride on to Hotchkiss tomorrow, ride some other places, and then roll back into Gunnison next Friday for the final day of their tour.

So if you own a motel or an eatery, possibly a gas station, you ought to see a decent spike in business today and next Friday. But if you own a retail store, it’s really about providing visitors with things to look at.

Our local chamber of commerce tries. And tries and tries. But most events designed to bring people downtown really just end up costing merchants money. Unless, again, you’re selling food.

Every year the city completely closes Main Street on Halloween afternoon so that the town’s kids can trick-or-treat from store to store. I’m sure the original driver behind this event was the notion that people would at least come into the stores and see what is offered downtown. And one year one of my friends, accompanying her kids, did say, out loud, to me: “Wow, TL, I’ve never been in your store.” How many times do you suppose she has shopped here since?

In fact, we no longer bother to let trick-or-treaters into the store. They swarm in such masses, and no one, including parents, is the least bit interested in looking at any merchandise, so it’s just much easier to station Don Maguire, a volunteer we have put into service, outside the front door with the toy bucket. (That’s right, toys, not candy — parents love us.) The event costs us $300-500 annually, plus my afternoon is spent refillng the toy cauldron and our actual customers can’t reach us because the street is blocked off.

Downtown business plans always feature government officials urging businesses to stay open later in the summer. Pat’s does that often, not on purpose, but we end up working late. And over the years a number of summer visitors have stopped in after our official closing of 6. A small percentage of these folks make any effort to shop; an even smaller percentage actually buy. What 90 percent of them want is to know where they should eat dinner.

It’s important for all of us in Gunnison to give our visitors a good or great impression of our town, and Pat’s may not make a lot of money directly off tourists, but we sell to events and other stores, so we are as dependent on the summer tourist traffic as everyone else in town.

But staffing our retail store in the evenings or on Sundays in order to recommend restaurants while giving a percentage of foot traffic the entertainment of looking at our merchandise without buying just doesn’t make financial sense for our business. And, after everyone has stayed late a couple of nights that week, or come in to print on a weekend day, it’s darn near impossible to find someone willing to work those additional retail hours.

However, Ride the Rockies dumps a large captive audience into town, and we did go to the trouble of printing shirts with bicycle themes on them, and it seems kind of silly to then not allow the visitors access to this merchandise.

But that would mean I need to open the store this afternoon and stay there. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of work to do while there. But then that’s four or five hours of my Sunday lost once again to packing and moving. I keep reaching for every excuse in the world to not be doing this, and I’m running short on Sundays.

So here we are: cyclists have already launched from Crested Butte and are headed this way. The earliest arrivals are anticipated around 11; I don’t see myself getting to work anytime before 1. But I just can’t decide how much effort I should make, and in an economy of scale, where my money is best spent. Home packing, or at work doing work while getting interrupted by people who want to know at which restaurant they should eat?

Why plan ahead of time? I guess I’ll mull it over during our Sunday breakfast (which may be clogged with bicyclists) and go from there.

Ah, summer.

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