By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer
BIG SKY – This winter was memorable in terms of snowfall and ski runs that hadn’t been sent in years, and it was also a booming year for local businesses.
With six new establishments opening – Mountain Maven, Rhinestone Cowgirl, the Burton Store, Uncle Dan’s Cookies, Easy Pieces Alterations and Nina’s Bakery – change was in the air.
New and old businesses alike celebrated spikes in revenue, and Big Sky Resort reported record-breaking numbers with 473,000 skier visits, even with previous combined numbers from Big Sky and Moonlight Basin.
“The entire Big Sky community experienced record breaking visitation and commerce this winter,” said Taylor Middleton, General Manager of Big Sky Resort, in a press release from the resort.
East Slope Outdoors, Big Sky’s oldest ski shop, moved from its original location by the Ace Hardware store on Highway 191 to Town Center, next to Rhinestone Cowgirl, Ousel and Spur, and Lone Peak Cinema. The new location brought exponential growth and generated a significant amount of foot traffic, said owner Katie Alvin.
“We saw our return clientele in our new location, plus grew a whole new customer base by being in Big Sky’s central shopping district,” Alvin said.
Local restaurants also got their fair share of the surging tourist numbers. Although First Place Pub, which is located in the Meadow Village, sees roughly 70 percent of its business from locals, its out-of-town clientele increase this past season, according to manager Dave McCune.
“We easily had our best winter yet,” said McCune, who enjoyed a nearly 10 percent increase in business over last year.
However, even with business on the rise, McCune has not seen a growth in the workforce. “There seems to be a labor shortage in Big Sky – probably related to the housing troubles – especially in food and beverage,” he said. “Several kitchens around town were short-staffed this winter, and more [community] restaurants means we need more qualified kitchens workers than ever.”
Neighboring restaurant Lone Peak Brewery also celebrated a year of change. With a new canning operation and breakfast hours at the taphouse, owners Vicky and Steve Nordahl had their hands full.
“For us it was a really good year,” Steve said. “It was another record winter season, which I guess is not terribly surprising with all the changes we have going on around here.”
Despite the success, Steve and some other businesses he spoke to noted a lull in mid-winter sales.
“January was actually off for whatever reason, and then February and March were record again,” he said. “That was a little shocking.”
While winter in Big Sky typically brings a stronger market for local business than any other season, the year round community is likely to continue growing as a new hospital and grocery store complete construction. As well, a new restaurant called Alberto’s Mexican Cuisine will fill the vacancy left by El Patron, and rumors abound of a new coffee shop coming to the Meadow Village.
Big Sky has a reputation as a transitory community, and one where revenue comes in waves. This is one wave business owners don’t want to miss.