Open stores are signs of life in a ghost town

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— "Closed until the end of May."

"Mud season hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m."

"Closed on Sundays."

The hand-scribbled signs hanging in the doors and windows of Steamboat Springs shops this week send a clear message: Mud season has arrived.

"It's a ghost town," said Joy Mayor, glancing out the window of The Homesteader store on Lincoln Avenue.

One week after the Steamboat Ski Area closed its lifts to skiers, many Steamboat businesses closed their doors to everyone.

Those that remain open, including The Homesteader, Moose Mountain Trading Company and numerous other stores and restaurants, often face an uphill battle attracting people downtown or to the mountain area.

"We're open," Moose Mountain owner Jennifer Wilson said, relaying a message many local business owners want to get out during this week and the quiet ones to come.

"We have a lot of spring clothes. We have more time to spend with the people who do come through the door. It's very relaxing."

Wilson's store, which specializes in women's clothing, particularly Norwegian and designer sweaters, has been in business 10 years. She can't remember ever closing for mud season, though Wilson said she understands why many businesses do.

"It's really not worth it," she said. "If you plan it real well you can eke by. It takes some planning."

Don Silva, owner of the Old West Steak House, hasn't closed the restaurant for mud season in any of its 19 years.

Like all those other years, he doesn't plan on making any money this mud season, either. Then again, that's never been the goal behind staying open.

"It's basically a commitment by us to be here for the locals," Silva said. "I feel like the local people recommend us to visitors and support us all year long. It's our responsibility to be here for these people.

"We lose money during the slow season. It's challenging and certainly not profitable."

But this time of year does have its upside, some business owners said. It's a great time for businesses to catch up on work that can't be done during the busier times of the year, such as direct mailings, Web site maintenance and inventory.

"Frankly, we're happy to have the time to clean our desktops off and catch our breath," Wilson said.

The length of time between the end of the ski season and when summer tourism heats up also provides a great opportunity for local shoppers to find deals on merchandise and food, Mayor said.

Looking at the 50-percent-off rack at the Homesteader, she said, "It's a time for locals still in town to get a parking spot downtown and find bargains -- if they're not in Mexico."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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