Don't believe the hype

Business owners: Rainbow gathering experience wasn't all that bad

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The Rainbow gathering's impact on area businesses was far less than expected, business owners and managers said.

While there was some shoplifting and loitering, the event never became the nightmare that many businesses were told to prepare for. "For some reason, you thought they were going to do something bad, but they didn't," said Susan Saari, who runs the Clark Store. "They were very nice people."

The Clark Store was square in the gatherings' crosshairs -- the small store 25 miles north of Steamboat was the only retail outlet shown on the Rainbow gathering's official map. The map pointed out that the store was the last place to stop for fuel and supplies.

Saari researched the gathering and prepared as best she could. And, in the end, things worked out pretty well, she said. In fact, business doubled at the general store compared to the same time last year, she said.

Saari said she feels burned out after spending long hours at the store, which normally caters to campers and other visitors to North Routt County.

She said she does not want to go through another Rainbow Family gathering experience, but she said the influx of business was probably worth it. She prepared for the crowds by stocking up on non-perishable items such as bottled water and toilet paper. She bought about 150 packs of loose tobacco and crates of fresh produce.

Saari hired additional workers to take care of security, brought portable toilets in and kept the store open for an additional two hours each day. "I did a pretty good job of not overdoing it," she said.

She once had to ask two men who were sleeping on the front porch to leave, but that's as bad as things got.

Farther north at Steamboat Lake, businesses felt a negative impact. In Late June, Steamboat Lake Marina owner Karl Bunker said his gross revenues were down 50 percent. State park campsites were full, but the number of day-trippers -- the biggest part of the marina's business during the July 4 holiday week -- was down. Bunker feared the gathering was scaring locals away from driving up to the lake.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association then worked to change that message by promoting the available space for those wanting to spend the holiday in North Routt County.

"That was a hard one to do damage control on," said Chamber spokeswoman Riley Polumbus.

Daily visits to Steamboat Lake State Park were down 10 percent in June compared to last year, said park manager Ken Brink. He said the lake recorded 64,686 days of use in June and extra staff was brought in to assist because of the gathering. He did not report any problems.

"It's kind of nice to see that we all got through it," Brink said.

Many Rainbow gathering participants stocked up on supplies at Steamboat grocery stores. Safeway Manager David Peterson said the store brought in additional security to keep an eye on the crowds, but there were only four or five incidents involving people headed toward the gathering. Shoplifting was not the problem though, he said. It was mostly people loitering in front of the store.

"It was pretty mild for us," Peterson said. "It actually brought us a lot of business."

There were no incidents of hippies bathing under shower misters. No one poked any holes in meat packaging with the hopes of salvaging it from the trash. "They were all rumors," Brink said. "Nothing like that happened."

Polumbus said it was difficult to determine what impact the Rainbow gathering had on tourism during the July 4 holiday week.

She said some who might have otherwise come probably stayed away because of the gathering. Still, AAA reported Steamboat was the state's top destination for the holiday.

"We had a pretty good couple weeks here," Polumbus said.

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