Pizza joints, guest ranch, pottery studio seek buyers
November 2, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Several local business owners are looking to pass the torch, and most of them cite reasons that have nothing to do with the faltering economy.
For the owners of Elk River Guest Ranch, the Potter’s Wheel and Black Diamond Automotive, the “for sale” sign is a result of changes in their children’s lives. For the owner of Soda Creek Pizza and Gnarly Charly’s, a new business is coming to the front burner.
But the sellers might face challenges, one expert said, noting that banks aren’t lending freely to would-be business owners.
A family thing
Elk River Guest Ranch owners Kathy and Bill Hinder want to sell or lease the ranch they’ve run for 13 years in North Routt County. They’re ready to do something else, Kathy Hinder said – namely, to travel to their son Austin Hinder’s to-be-determined college. Recruiters are banging at the door of the Steamboat Springs High School quarterback, a junior.
The Hinders have gotten a taste of that travel, Kathy Hinder said.
“That’s been our funnest thing in the fall is when they have away games; we’ve been going,” she said. “We’re getting to see Colorado.”
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The owners of the Potter’s Wheel and Black Diamond also have their children in mind as they aim to sell their businesses. Gail Holthausen runs the paint your own pottery studio, and her husband, Charlie, runs Black Diamond Automotive.
The pair’s children, who are 18 and 21, go to school in Washington state. The Holthausens would like to spend more time with each other and traveling to see the children.
“It’s time to maybe do something else a little bit and also not be so tied down to business,” Gail Holthausen said.
The Holthausens don’t plan to leave Steamboat, Charlie Holthausen said. They run both businesses out of a building on Acre Lane near Steamboat Springs Airport.
Charlie Holthausen said he was offering deals for Black Diamond.
“We really want them to succeed, so we’re going to finance the whole deal at 5 percent over 10 years,” he said. “You can’t get a better deal than that.”
Kathy Hinder said she and her husband also plan to stay in the area, possibly on one of the residential lots they’re splitting off and selling from the ranch. And, she vowed, the ranch’s winter sleigh ride dinners are still on this year.
But Hinder and the Holthausens said they are concerned about the economy.
“We’re just kind of waiting,” Kathy Hinder said. “The economy definitely probably has an effect on that, but I feel like after the elections it’ll lighten up a little bit and get better.”
Hinder and Gail Holthausen said they were optimistic about the winter.
“It will probably be like last year,” Hinder said. “It’ll be great snow, and we’ll have a lot of skiers. It’s just not going to be as easy as it was in the past.”
Holthausen said the Potter’s Wheel could benefit from a down economy. Visitors might not want to spend as much money on skiing, she said, which could send them her way for a cheaper daytime activity.
Moving past pizza
Steve Hitchcock, who owns Soda Creek Pizza and Gnarly Charly’s, has put both businesses up for sale. He started Soda Creek about 10 years ago and bought Gnarly Charly’s. Hitchcock said he wasn’t leaving because of bad business.
“I hope I’m not out of line to say they’ve become Steamboat institutions,” Hitchcock said of his restaurants.
But Hitchcock and his wife are moving on to another project. They plan to open Zirkel Trading in the new Howelsen Place development this month. The shop will sell men’s apparel and mountain lifestyle items such as binoculars, Hitchcock said.
“Despite the fact that I’ve been in the pizza business now for a decade, my professional background is much more in line with the apparel business and retail and that kind of thing,” he said.
Hitchcock worked in apparel for 23 years during a career that included stints at Marmot and Patagonia, he said. He and his wife had been waiting for the right opportunity to open a clothing store.
“We really did not want to do a retail store until we had the combination of idea and location,” Hitchcock said. “With the redevelopment of the corner at Seventh (Street), that idea kind of came into place.”
About a dozen businesses were listed for sale in Thursday’s Steamboat Today, but the number actually is higher, said Peter Remy, who runs Remy Business Realty. He deals exclusively with business sales, many of which are kept private.
“Actually, I have probably 10 businesses for sale, but everything I do is confidential,” Remy said. “I do not put it out because I think when a business advertises that it’s for sale, that hurts it.”
Remy has been in business real estate in Steamboat for 27 years. He is selling more businesses than usual, he said, adding that most of the owners are retiring or leaving town rather than selling because of the economy.
Business owners looking to sell are facing challenges, however, Remy said.
“Right now, I would put business sales on a very precarious situation due to lack of financing,” he said.
For example, a couple of potential buyers have run into hiccups.
“I have been working with one particular business with an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan and a bank for four months, and we had loan approval, and we were told to go ahead, and when I asked for the funding to close it, to close the sale, they told me they were no longer lending money and they were reneging,” Remy said.
Remy predicted that the lending market could stabilize after Tuesday’s election and probably would improve in about a year.
The turnover isn’t unusual, said Sandy Evans Hall, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association executive vice president. Business owners frequently sell during the off-season, she said.
“I don’t see anything unusual yet,” Evans Hall said.
Remy confirmed that turnover is normal in Steamboat.
“That’s not unusual in a resort town,” he said. “A lot of people come with what I say are great expectations and then they find the resort is very hard on small businesses. We think that people will come and buy stuff, and when they don’t, it really hurts the small businesses.”
Remy said he deals only with businesses that he thinks will be successful. Hitchcock said he has seen steady interest in Soda Creek and Gnarly Charly’s – but no buyers yet.
“It isn’t only a question of whether it is a good business and whether it makes a profit, but it’s a question of whether that person who has the money to do the deal also wants to own that kind of business,” Hitchcock said.
And selling an establishment takes time, he said.
“We’ve had a number of inquiries,” Hitchcock said. “But businesses are not like a steak dinner: You don’t turn around and buy another one tomorrow night.”
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