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Winter weather a boon for business - Snow brings out snowmobilers

With a later snowfall this season, many businesses were waiting with anticipation to see how they would be affected. For some restaurants close to trails, late December snowstorms caused a significant surge in patronage. Managers are thrilled with recent business. Photo Illustration

The Brainerd lakes area often sees a decline in business at local establishments as cold weather rolls in. Tourism and outdoor recreation in winter are important for a steady flow of customers.

With a later snowfall this season, many businesses were waiting with anticipation to see how they would be affected.

For some restaurants close to trails, late December snow storms caused a significant surge in patronage. Managers are thrilled with recent business.

"I call it the million dollar snow," said Terry Wallin, manager of Ye Old Pickle Factory, a municipal bar in Nisswa.

Wallin said business had significantly picked up since the snow fell, especially due to snowmobilers using the trails. The Pickle Factory is right along the Paul Bunyan Trail.

"Business has been awesome," he said. "Last Saturday (Dec. 29) we had, I'd say, about 150 to 200 sleds in."

Jessie Eide at Moonlite Bay agreed that snowmobilers brought lots of new business to Crosslake.

"It's been fabulous," she said. "I can't remember the last time I've seen so many snowmobiles in the lot."

Eide said she counted 60-75 snowmobiles during a rush the weekend following the storm.

"There was a pretty good sign that there were snowmobiles everywhere," said Eide. "I had a man come into Moonlite Bay and say, 'Can you believe the gas station is out of gas?'"

Evidently one of the of the gas stations in Crosslake had not been prepared for the surge of snowmobiles coming through town and couldn't keep up with demand.

Eide said hotels in Crosslake were completely booked for the first weekend in January. She thought southern Minnesotans might be here to take advantage of the snow since they didn't receive as much.

Both Eide and Wallin said their establishments were well prepared for the influx of business when the storm hit. It was advantageous that the snow fell shortly after Christmas, because many businesses already scheduled extra staff for holiday traffic.

"Life is good," said Wallin.

Eide agreed. "I'm excited to see what this weekend brings."

Other restaurants didn't necessarily see such an increase in customers following the snowfall. For Bites Grill & Bar in Pine River, the snow brings more of a change of clientele, rather than a surge.

"For the most part, I know a lot of people assume once the snowmobiles start running we get really busy," said Bites owner Roger Hoplin. "A lot of times we do. The front will be just packed full of snowmobiles. I've kind of looked over the last couple of years now and I've noticed on years we get lots of snow, we get lots of snowmobilers. When we don't have a lot of snow, it's easier for other people to get out and about and come in. It seems to me that we are pretty steady and not affected by huge swings like that."

Winter does generally mean less business at Bites, but Hoplin said his staff-to-customer ratio throughout the year sort of regulates itself thanks to teachers and students who often leave in the fall and return in the summer, meaning he never has too many or too few workers for his customer base.

Hoplin still recognizes the value of snowfall and the snowmobilers who come to enjoy fresh powder.

"It helps the lodging industry and others," Hoplin said. "In the big picture I'm definitely thinking it's good to have some snow and get people out and about."

Though having bursts of customers can mean larger profits, Hoplin is happy just to have a consistent customer base of both regular locals and traveling snowmobilers.

"Going into winter I don't fret if we'll get snow," Hoplin said. "It's not a matter of if we get snow or don't get snow that we'll be able to stay open. It kind of lets us sleep better at night."