Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Impacts ripple through Ketchum, Sun Valley

Retailers, city leaders look ahead to brighter days

Express Staff Writer

Jim McLaughlin, fly fishing manager for Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, said sales dropped sharply last weekend. Photo by Willy Cook

As firefighters continue to do a commendable job of controlling the massive Beaver Creek Fire, residents of Ketchum and Sun Valley have had to contend with far more negative effects than just the smoke.
    One noteworthy individual who has been severely affected is Sarah Hedrick.
    Hedrick, who owns Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, is gravely concerned for the future of her business after this year’s Sun Valley Writer’s Conference was cancelled.
    Iconoclast Books is still paying back the aid it received in the wake of the 2007 Castle Rock Fire, and Hedrick is worried that this fire could be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
    “This fire has been absolutely devastating. I’m really not sure if we can survive this,” Hedrick said of the fire’s effect on her business.
    “Part of me says I’m not sure it will survive. This could be the end of the bookstore. The community will have to decide if it wants a book store.”
    With four sons, Hedrick said staying in her home in Hailey became a “personal hell” when her family couldn’t avoid breathing in smoke—even inside.
    She decided to evacuate to a campground near Twin Falls primarily to get one of her sons, who had difficulty breathing, out of the area.
    Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall shared his admiration for Hedrick, and his hopes for her future.
    “Sarah is an institution in this town. With all that she’s endured, has gone through and all the nonprofit work she does, it shows that we’re in danger of losing important pieces of our culture,” he said.
    Along with Hedrick, John McLaughlin has also personally experienced the negative effects of the fire on the local economy.
    As the fly fishing manager at Silver Creek Outfitters, he said the store’s sales have probably dropped around 80 percent since Saturday, and it has been forced to cancel several fishing trips as a result.
    McLaughlin said, “It sucks because it’s a ghost town and everyone’s gone.
    “It’s just hard because here we are in the busiest time of year for tourist season when the whole town should be booming and making money to get us through the shoulder seasons, but then in 24 to 48 hours it went from booming to feeling like there’s nobody here.”
    Hall also described his personal frustration with handling yet another wildfire.
    “It’s affected me the same way it’s affected everyone else. We’re all tired. We’re tired of smelling smoke, we’re tired of not sleeping, and we’re tired of how our life is not normal.
    “I suspect we will continue to have good news as long as the fire is behaving as it is now.
    “You got the adrenaline high in the first couple of days, but after that then you start feeling hung-over.
    “Nobody likes to sustain that feeling for very long. We’re all looking forward to this being over.”
    In the city of Sun Valley, the Sun Valley Resort has dealt with many cancellations and tourists leaving early, according to Director of Marketing and Public Relations Jack Sibbach.
    Businesses within the resort have operated under reduced hours with fewer employees available to work.
    Sibbach said the resort has undertaken a proactive mentality in managing the fire’s effects.
    “We knew a lot of employees would be evacuated. There would be a lot of guests that wondered what’s happening. We tried to stay in front of it with social media and let them know what’s going on,” he said.
    “We’re still running a business and hoping for business, even with making a lot of adjustments,” he said.
    Sibbach also expressed his hope that the consequences of the fire will be more profound in the immediate future rather than further down the road.
    “We have definitely been affected short term like the rest of the businesses in this valley.
    “Short term, this will be very difficult to take. The best case scenario we think is to have a celebratory weekend on Labor Day with Wagon Days, the Ice Show and have the car auction.
    “In the long term, we all live in a very special place here. We think we have a good brand, and we will come back stronger than ever.
    “I think we can get there as a community if we work towards that goal.”
    As a bartender at the Sun Valley Resort, Loren Lombard spoke of how the fire has caused a multitude of adverse effects.
    He said, “This fire has affected so much more than just people leaving. There are all these banquets, fundraisers and so many places that rely on making money from people who have it.
    “When those people leave or don’t come, we’re kind of screwed.”
    Both Lombard and Sibbach have taken the resort up on its offer to allow all employees to stay at the hotel until the fire is under control.
    With the lack of tourists staying at the resort during what is usually a busy time of year, the resort has filled rooms while helping fulfill the needs of nearby residents at the same time.
    Sibbach revealed that the resort has offered a special discounted rate (a price he declined to disclose) for fire evacuees in need of temporary living quarters. The resort has even relaxed its ban on pets with its guests as well.
    While the resort will have to deal with an unexpectedly disappointing August due to the fire, Sibbach expressed his desire to see the community reinvigorated once the fire is under control.
    “I really hope we can still have Wagon Days as planned. It’s a key for us as a community to have that celebratory weekend on Labor Day.
    “We need to get rid of the perception of being a ghost town,” he said.
    “Our message has always been, ‘We’re open.’ We’ve had to adjust our operations, but we’re not closing our doors unless we’re forced out.”

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