Area businesses not concerned with wildfires

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— Fires might be burning in Colorado, but that will not stop tourists from coming to Steamboat and burning money.

At least that is what local businesses and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association are hoping.

Most downtown businesses say it is too early to tell if recent wildfires will keep out-of-state travelers from visiting Colorado, but they said the City Council's move to ban fireworks should not have much of an impact on business for Fourth of July weekend.

"(Tourists) will come up for the other events. I don't think they come to Steamboat for fireworks. I don't think anybody is going to do fireworks. It levels the playing field," said Joe Walker, owner of the Steamboat Brewery & Tavern and El Rancho Nuevo.

Many shared Walker's sentiment as they supported the council's decision and said the fireworks are not the main draw to Steamboat during the holiday weekend.

Sandy Evans-Hall, the executive vice president of the chamber, said people would still come to Steamboat for the Independence Incident concerts, Pro Rodeo Series and the Cowboy Round-Up.

Bill Montag, manager of Soda Creek Western Mercantile, also said it is more than fireworks that keep the tourists coming.

"The No. 1 draw is the rodeo and parade, I guess for this Fourth of July we just have to make the parade bigger," Montag said.

Although most business owners think a lack of fireworks will not keep people away, many are not quite so positive on the consequences the wildfires will have on out-of-state tourists.

"We're hoping for very little impact. If people are still in the decision-making mode, it may impact that," Evans-Hall said.

Most shop owners mentioned the damaging effects of Gov. Bill Owens' sound bite proclaiming, "All of Colorado is burning."

They said it is much like the winter season, when most of the nation believes what is happening in Denver also applies to Steamboat.

Evans-Hall was one of the many who compared it the boost in bookings that come a day after a snowy Denver Broncos game. Since the fire started, Evans-Hall said the chamber has been taking calls from tourists who want to know how close Steamboat is to the fires.

The 100,000 acres burning in Colorado might be another hard blow to the Colorado tourist industry, which has already withstood the effects of Sept. 11, a lower-than-average snowfall and chronic wasting disease.

With remarks such as the one made by Owens, shop owners such as Lil Gonzales of The Shirt Shop LTD., said the outlook for this summer could be grim.

"It's just kind of scary, it made me a little nervous," Gonzales said.

Others are saying that may not be the case.

"Colorado people will come to Steamboat. It's the best place to be," said Brenda Kolberg, who works at the Alpiner Lodge.

Evans-Hall said the chamber has been promoting the image of a green and lush Steamboat in news releases and with photos on its Web site.

"We want to make sure people see what it looks like and hopefully reassure them," she said.

Despite the bans on open fires in forest areas, outdoor shops said their business should not take a blow.

Matt Taff of Matt & Bryan's Outdoor Shop said as long as campers understand there are ways to enjoy camping without open fires, he does not see a decline for Steamboat, which he said has more water than most of the state.

One business so far has even gotten a boost from the wildfires.

Rich Stremel, owner of Texaco, said traffic routed through Steamboat Sunday kept his gas station busy.

But Montag said regardless of tourism, his western goods store could take a hit as the drought continues.

"Local ranchers don't have the money to purchase things. That is the toughest part," he said.

"Our store depends a good deal on local trade."

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