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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Tourism businesses hopeful, but cautious

July 2, 2012
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Some businesses may have only been closed for a day and others for seven, but the cities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs are feeling the impact of the Waldo Canyon fire.

"The timing of this could not have been worse economically, said Tim Haas, vice president of TAT Enterprises, Inc., which owns four local businesses including the Garden of the Gods Trading Post.

Haas said his businesses finished June down 25 percent in revenue because of the seven days they were closed for the fire. Haas was able to offer eight employees their jobs back after cutting about 30 positions.

"We're going to survive," Haas said. "It's going to be a tough, tough year but it could have been worse."

And many other businesses are in similar positions.

While the parking lot of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway looked full, General Manager Spencer Wren Jr. said the railway's flow of customers was far below normal.

"That's nothing," he said of the lot.

Bonnie Frum, director of operations at Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center said they are thrilled to be open. And while she's had to cancel thousands of dollars worth of motor coach tours, she's been able to retrieve a few.

"The first day has been busy," Frum said Monday.

North Pole and Santa's Village owner Tom Haggard said it was difficult to gauge how busy the day would be. Haggard said people continue to call, concerned about the smoke.

"The expectations are pretty low until the fire is really out," Haggard said of his winter wonderland amusement park business. "I really think that we are going to see a pretty significant loss of business until the fire is out."

Cave of the Winds also opened Monday morning. Manager Daniel Carey said that in the first five minutes there were about 30 people through the doors. He's believes the tourist season will finish strong.

Downtown Manitou Springs busineses and visitors also were hopeful.

At Adam's Mountain Cafe, host Patrick Campo said business has been picking up rapidly and that the restaurant was fully staffed.

Gwen McDonnell, from Honolulu, is visiting her parents for the week.

"We want to be here," McDonnell said. They were right outside the gate of Garden of the Gods when it opened.  

Her mother, Pamela Phillips, said it's quieter than usual in Manitou, but she thinks it will pick up.

Meanwhile, Alex Eyssen came from Texas with his wife and three children and stopped in Colorado Springs on their way to Buena Vista. On Monday morning they visited Garden of the Gods and the North Pole. They'd been planning the trip for a year and decided to come because they figured the roads would eventually open. Plus, they wanted to support Colorado and tourism.

A quick scan of a parking lot showed cars from  Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, California, and obviously Colorado.

Cathy Kantor, office manager at Front Range Barbecue in Old Colorado City, said that while it may not have been as busy for them during lunch hours, the nights have been pretty steady.

"People come for a sense of community," Kantor said of the locals. She said they come and help each other feel better.

Back at the North Pole, Haggard met with employees Monday morning and said that while they were opening and had no fire damage, this wasn't a time for celebtration.

"We're very thankful," Haggard said. "We want to get back into routine but normalcy is going to have to wait."

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