Offseason. It’s that time of year when Main Street hosts more coyotes than tourists and parking is easier to find than a battered, second-hand Nalgene in the free box.
It’s also that stretch when those locals not paddling in Moab or lying on a Hawaiian beach make the rounds between the small handful of restaurants and bars that stay open — or mostly open — in the weeks between the Telluride Ski Resort’s closing day and when the gondola re-opens just before Mountainfilm.
Chat with any of the hardy owners of these businesses and the reasons for remaining open are wide ranging.
Telluride Truffle, for instance, keeps its Lawson Hill store and kitchen open throughout offseason because of its online business, which revolves around major holidays, as opposed to the eccentricities of the local micro-economy.
“We always keep the Lawson Hill location open due to the website, which remains active especially when Easter hits late as it did this year,” owner Patty Denny said. “Also, Mother’s Day is another time when our website gets busy.”
As for Telluride Truffle’s North Fir Street store, Denny said keeping it open often depends on whether or not an employee wants the work.
“When I have an employee who needs the money, I keep the shop in town open,” she said. “It does well enough to cover someone’s salary, which is good because it keeps someone employed.”
She added, “I like the idea that Telluride Truffle is always open. It’s easier for me because I only need one employee to do that.”
Denny is one of a number of local businesses owners who have noticed a more robust offseason this year than in the past.
Baked in Telluride owner Neal McKinley is riding his first offseason following his purchase of the iconic bakery from Jerry Greene in November. McKinley noted that while business is slow in offseason, there has been an uptick this year, with increased numbers of intrepid, or unknowing, tourists keeping his cash register busier than in previous years.
“I have noticed it seems like there are more and more tourists during offseason,” McKinley remarked.
Josh Klein of Smuggler’s also noticed a busier offseason than in past years.
“It is offseason, so it is not too busy, but it has been good for off-season,” he said.
Despite the perceived increase in visitors, money doesn’t seem to be the prime reason for staying open, with the majority of owners interviewed saying that they break even, lose money or profit only slightly in offseason.
“Business is so-so,” said Moussa Konare, who co-owns the Last Dollar Saloon. “Some days we are packed and some days we are twiddling our thumbs, but in the long run it averages out. When school is out for spring break and many locals leave town, that’s when it’s especially slow. … Thankfully other businesses/bars close, which makes it worthwhile. If everyone stayed open, it wouldn’t be worth any one’s time.”
For his part, Brown Dog Pizza’s Dan Lynch said that although “it’s a tricky one,” he wished more businesses stayed open.
“It’s kind of like a snowball,” Lynch said. “If I stay open, then I have 30 employees that are here in town doing stuff, instead of going other places. If more and more businesses did this and stayed open, we could generate a much better working environment for the local people. It’s hard to move forward when you are only working eight months a year.”
Lynch added that his business in offseason breaks down to “60-20-20”, or 60 percent locals, 20 percent visitors and 20 percent “regional business workers. They might live in Montrose or Cortez or Ridgway and they can’t afford to eat in Telluride and it’s just too busy or too crazy during the rest of the year. But, especially with specials going on or discounts in offseason, they can come now in for dinner or lunch.”
McKinley said those regional businesspeople — many of whom are the construction workers currently working on the plethora of building projects in town — are a boon for offseason business at the bakery.
“We definitely get a lot of the construction workers, especially in the morning,” McKinley said. “At 7 a.m., it’s just us and Clark’s.”
McKinley added that he has an additional, vital reason for keeping his business open: It is a legal necessity because a number of the bakery’s employees are working there courtesy of a Visa program that requires them to have regular hours of work.
“With the H-2B Visa, that is a requirement, so we have to keep open for our employees,” he said.
Many employers said they use offseason to get the necessities done.
“Offseason allows us to catch up,” Denny said. “We spend the time reorganizing systems, doing deep cleaning and planning for the next season.”
Lynch explained that offseason provides the time and space for staff training and changes in procedure.
“When Mountainfilm rolls around, we are ready to roll. Everybody’s been working, we’ve put new systems in place and we’ve taken our game up to a new level,” he said.
It’s also a time, Lynch said, for simply enjoying the quieter days with fellow Telluriders.
“It’s wonderful to see people we don’t get to see during some of the busier times of the year,” he said.
Said the Buck’s Konare, “Slow is good after a long busy season. Customers are 95 percent locals and it’s a relaxing, fun time. Long live offseason.”