Steamboat Springs On Friday morning, Don Grueser stood alone in Fuzziwig's Candy Factory in Ski Time Square. The store was replete with sweets, but devoid of people. An undisturbed baking sheet of chocolate-covered pretzels sat near the front window, and in a span of 20 minutes, the only visitor to the store was a construction worker who asked if he could run a faucet to flush the water lines.
"Ski Time Square doesn't exist anymore," Grueser said.
A couple doors down, at The Tugboat Grill & Pub, co-owner Larry Lamb waited for the water to be turned back on so he could open the restaurant. There have been days this summer when he hasn't been able to open until 4 p.m. because of the water being shut off for construction projects in the area.
At Steamboat Trading Co., owner Erich Esswein needed only one word to describe business this summer - "horrible."
And down the street, at Dos Amigos, owner Gary Baxter discussed why he's had enough of all the hassles in Ski Time Square. After 32 years, the restaurant and bar will close Sept. 2.
"In Ski Time Square, I'm gone," said Baxter, who has been the sole owner of Dos Amigos since 2005, has been at least a part owner since 1989, and began working at the restaurant in the early 1980s. "I want nothing to do with Ski Time Square or the new owners. The uncertainty that's here, I can't face."
Ski Time Square, along with Thunderhead Lodge, was sold in April for $53.9 million to Washington, D.C., real estate developer Cafritz Interests. Cafritz and Colorado-based developer The Atira Group have made no secret of their plans to demolish and rebuild Ski Time Square.
Jane Blackstone, a development manager for The Atira Group, said Ski Time Square tenants will be asked to leave the property next summer in anticipation of the demolition, which is slated for fall 2008. Construction of the new development would begin in spring 2009 and it would be at least two more years before it is ready to be occupied, Blackstone said.
Baxter decided to get out early, citing rising operating costs and a 50 percent reduction in business due to construction in the area. Baxter said the relocation of special events that used to be held on or near the ski mountain - such as the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and the Free Summer Concert Series - also have hurt business. Baxter said he is in the beginning stages of looking for a new location to reopen the restaurant.
"I'm open to anywhere," Baxter said. "Anywhere in Routt County, really."
Other Ski Time Square businesses regret the loss of Dos Amigos. Esswein said Dos Amigos was a popular restaurant and he was surprised to hear it would be closing.
"It will be very negative for Ski Time Square," Esswein said. "The restaurants are the draw here."
Grueser, whose wife is a co-owner of Fuzziwig's, said the candy store will suffer with Dos Amigos' closure. Less diners in Ski Time Square means less of the walk-by, impulse shoppers on whom a candy store relies.
"Every time one person goes out, Ski Time Square becomes a less viable place to shop," Grueser said.
Baxter said he believes other businesses will follow his exit from Ski Time Square, although they may stick it out through the next ski season. Grueser said closing the candy shop has been considered and echoed Baxter's claim that construction near Ski Time Square - part of a multi-year, $23 million redevelopment project at the base of Steamboat Ski Area - has hurt business by at least 50 percent.
"There isn't any" business, Grueser said. "It doesn't exist. I really feel the city or developer ought to consider some supplemental assistance in destroying our business."
Fuzziwig's is open only on Fridays and Saturdays this summer, compared with seven days a week last summer, Grueser said. At Tugboat, Lamb said business is down, but to a lesser degree. Sales in June were down 8 percent from the same month last year, Lamb said.
"It's been hurt by all this construction, but we're still doing business," Lamb said.
Other business owners in Ski Time Square agree with Lamb that operating costs have increased since the property was sold. But Mountain Resorts, which was hired by Cafritz to replace the Steamboat Sheraton Resort as Ski Time Square's property manager, said it has not altered the tenants' leases or imposed any new charges.
Jim Landers, vice president of operations for Mountain Resort's associate management division, said any increase in operating costs most likely is the result of higher taxes - the value of Ski Time Square has increased from $11.6 million in 2005 to $20.3 million in 2007, County Assessor Mike Kerrigan said - and increases in the common area maintenance fee tenants pay.
That fee covers the cost of Ski Time Square sidewalks, street lamps and snow removal, among other things. Landers said the fee is based on the previous year's costs and is higher this year because of heavy snowstorms in 2006.
In the dark
Lamb said Tugboat will stay put in Ski Time Square until he is forced to leave. He said he'd like to return when Ski Time Square's redevelopment is complete. He has been given no indication whether that will be possible, however, and complained about an overall lack of communication from Cafritz and Atira.
"They don't care," Lamb said. "All they want is to tear it all down. They don't care a rip whether we're here or not."
Blackstone said she couldn't say whether existing Ski Time Square businesses would be offered space in the new development. She said redevelopment plans for Ski Time Square are preliminary and that it is not yet known what the mix will be between retail and residential space.
Although Blackstone said there have been regular meetings with Ski Time Square tenants and efforts to "keep them in the loop," Esswein said communication has been lacking and that tenants have been met with indifference.
"It seems as though the desire is to get us out of here as soon as possible," Esswein said. "If a place in Torian Plum became available, I'd move in a second."
Mountain Resorts is making it easier for businesses to leave Ski Time Square if they like. Baxter's lease at Dos Amigos was until 2010, but he was allowed out of it early. Landers said all of Ski Time Square's businesses are allowed to end their leases early without a penalty. It is a recognition of the precarious spot the businesses are in.
"It's a tough situation there," Landers said.
Baxter said he has informed his regular customers of his intention to leave. He said they are "bummed," but also supportive.
"Everyone's encouraging though and hoping we'll find another location," Baxter said.