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Customers check out at Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum during a previous busy holiday season, when an influx of visitors packed the aisles.

For local grocers, the holidays just mean more.

More of everything—food, booze, hours, people. Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum expects to see 30 to 50 percent more business during the last two weeks of 2019 than during any other time of the year, according to Manager Tom Pyle.

Keeping that many people in champagne, crab legs and candy canes means months of planning—up to eight for specialty items. Pyle placed his first Christmas orders in April, he said, and the store hasn’t stopped since.

“These will be the biggest weeks of the year,” said owner Whit Atkinson. “We get shipments every day.”

Atkinson falls back on 60 years of family experience, complete with daily sales logs, to determine what to order. His strategy: Leave the fads—and the health food—for the other 11 months. The year-end staples haven’t changed since he’s been in the business. Pyle agrees. People want prime rib and holiday hams, turkeys and geese, lobster and crab—king or Dungeness.

“Some trends change,” Pyle said. “There are always new specialty items, health foods. It’s all the new that makes it different. But 20 years ago, people were buying prime rib and turkeys and hams—and that’s what they’re buying today.”

Then, they move on to booze. Wine for holiday parties. Champagne for New Year’s Eve. The store keeps plenty of both, Pyle said. (Don’t forget the bars, either: Sun Valley Resort was the state’s largest liquor buyer in fiscal 2018, according to the Idaho State Liquor Division; it spent more than $470,000 on 17,341 bottles. As far as single establishments go, Ketchum’s Casino bought 6,289 bottles during the same period.)

“People stock up, that’s for sure,” Pyle said.

The last ingredient to a successful grocery run isn’t on any holiday shopping list. They might pass by unnoticed to busy buyers, but the staff are already in high gear well before out-of-towners arrive.

The manager at Albertsons supermarket in Hailey couldn’t be reached for this story—his schedule was wall-to-wall with interviews, trying to raise the small army needed to see out 2019. Employees at the Village Market in Ketchum didn’t have time, either—“We’re already swamped,” one manager said.

“Everybody goes into overtime,” Atkinson said. “We carry people all through the year so we have them for this time.”

Their reward for a long schedule? Christmas Day off—the one day each year that Atkinson closes his stores.

“We all cross our fingers and hope to get by,” Pyle said. “And everybody works a little extra. But by now, they’ve been with us a long time. They know what’s coming.

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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