Running a business has never been a cakewalk, especially in a town of 300. While Rico’s handful of businesses enjoy the steady stream of tourism from those flocking to the mountains, the town, like its ski town neighbor Telluride, experiences seasonal ebbs and flows. Over the past year, however, Rico’s business owners have had to adapt to weather the unusual conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Mine Shaft Inn, the town’s historic bed and breakfast, owners Jorden O’Hara and Andrew Romanyshyn have adapted by requiring group stays for rooms with shared bathrooms, and at times, restricting availability to rooms with in-suite bathrooms only. It’s been a challenge, one requiring constant adaptation and a stalwart work ethic.
“It has definitely made us have more work for less money, but we are lucky that we live in a part of the world where people come for outdoor tourism,” said O’Hara, noting that both she and Romanyshyn have held onto other jobs to combat both the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic as well as the difficulty of fluctuating levels of demand in a small, rural town. The seasonal tourism tides have always favored the summer in Rico, and the plethora of nearby outdoor pursuits brought steady summertime visitors this summer, even with — or perhaps because of — the pandemic.
“Winter in Rico is always hard no matter what,” noted O’Hara, something she has learned over the long run observing her father’s restaurant, the Prospector, which has operated for two decades.
“A large portion of our clientele are people visiting Telluride, but another big part of it are people who come to the mountains to explore what we have to offer, like backcountry skiing, cross country skiing, mountain biking, fishing and hiking,” she said. “So in that sense we were blessed during this whole thing that we were able to offer that and other socially distanced activities to our guests.”
For Brandy Randall, owner of local restaurant and bar the Enterprise, the winter season has prompted changes due to the lack of ability to operate with normal indoor dining and to host events. With a spacious outdoor patio adjacent to the building, complete with a classic truck transformed into an outdoor bar, the Enterprise was able to provide an open air space for patrons, often with local musicians adding to the ambiance.
“We’re historically pretty slow in the winter, so I have to create events and specials to get people in here, but with space limitations and not being able to have events that attract a lot of people, it’s going to be hard to make it with the little bit of local business we get in the winter,” Randall said.
Like O’Hara, she’s figuring out new ways to do business, adding merchandise that she’s begun shipping out to increase sales and planning for a big upcoming summer of events as a means of making up for a thin winter.
“This year we’re planning on adapting, and to overcome, we just have to do better,” she said, pointing to improvements to the menu and renting the rooms above the Enterprise by the month instead of nightly through Airbnb. Ultimately, she expressed confidence that while times are lean, it’s not the first or last rodeo for the historic bar.
“The Enterprise turns 129 years old this year and we are so stoked to keep carrying the torch,” she said. “We’ve been able to make it through a bunch of other major challenges so this is just another one for the history books.”
While the difficulties of the pandemic have landed particularly hard on the restaurant, bar and service industries, the year also saw the opening of Motherlode Liquors, a main street shop owned by Paul Winton, and most recently, Rico Coffee, set to open Monday.
“I’ve been building the store on word of mouth,” said Winton, “And so far, I’ve been happy. I feel like the clientele base has been growing and responding well.”
For locally owned businesses in a small town, every sale counts, and it’s consumers choosing to spend dollars locally, especially during hard times, that keeps the doors open.
“I think this is a learning process for all of us, and I am glad to have support of the community,” observed O’Hara. “I think the most important part of all of this, besides being safe, is to make sure to support your local small businesses in any way you can. That might not be feasible for everyone, but, if you have the means to do it, even things like buying gift certificates for friends and family or for yourself for future use help.”