Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Mark Dykes
Assistant Editor 

Community input sought by EDC

 


In the coming weeks, people are invited to share what they think are some of the best attributes of Thermopolis and Hot Springs County, as well as areas that need improvement.

Amanda Moeller, CEO for the Thermopolis-Hot Springs County Economic Development Company (EDC), explained the EDC Board had a retreat back in April. The organization’s mission statement, she said, “is to create growth and promote a stable and diversified economy, which is consistent with the needs, desires and values of the people of Hot Springs County.” She posed to the board the question, “How do we know what the people want?”

While the seven-member board provides a good cross-section of the community, Moeller said, they need to make sure they are holding true to their mission. To that end, a survey was released over a week ago, with a closing date scheduled for Sept. 30. Moeller said in that time they want to get as many responses as possible.

As of Aug. 25, Moeller said, the survey showed a majority who believe Hot Springs State Park is one of the biggest strengths. Other high results were for the Big Horn River and the small town feeling. On the reverse, many think one of the challenges facing the community is the difficulty for people to stay due to lack of opportunities. As for what people would like to preserve in the community, many were in favor of historic downtown buildings.

Moeller said the overall feeling is people want to see the downtown revitalized, and to see the community shine. The EDC is also co-sponsoring an upcoming brownfields workshop, and Moeller is hopeful people attend and glean the information they need to make educated decisions about their buildings.

Other results from the survey, as of Aug. 25, showed many people see transportation and workforce as issues, while the beautiful scenery is largely a positive.

The information provided through the surveys, Moeller said, will help the EDC move forward with its mission statement. It will help the board focus on what they are working on, she added, and provide an opportunity for people to get their opinion out. It is the desire of the board to publish the results after the closing date.

The EDC is not just another government entity, Moeller said. They are working to make something happen.

The survey is available online at the bottom of the EDC homepage — http://www.thermopolisedc.com — through the EDC Facebook page or by emailing Moeller at thermopolisedc@rtconnect.net.

Several local businesses were recently surveyed with regard to hours of operation — specifically being open only during the regular 9-5 workday or thereabout, and whether expansion of hours might help.

Deb Tudor with the Black Bear Café pointed out all of the downtown businesses are managed locally. In large cities with large workforces, she said, corporate entities have the people to hire to manage their businesses. In a small-town environment, business owners are often also working at the business.

“You have to pick your battles,” said Tudor, noting when the business first opened their hours were 6 a.m.-2 p.m., but they changed to provide an additional hour in the afternoon. She added they do get busy from 2-3 p.m.

Tudor also acknowledged there are people who get upset with having few places to eat in the evenings, but many owners are putting in their time as well. The hours they have, she said, work well, and the currently have a strong staff to cover all shifts. She further pointed out the population is close to 40 percent seniors, which hurts the labor force, and there’s maybe 1,000 people able to work.

Stephanie Conrad of S-Squared Designs said limited hours can lead to limited business. Currently opening at 10 a.m., Conrad noted the business was initially open only afternoons. She added they do get some foot traffic before noon. Conrad said, specifically for the summer, it would be better if businesses were open longer for tourists.

Conrad said she sees a lot of business after 5 p.m., and the after-hours workshops they have at the store are almost always full.

Shelley Butler of Flying Eagle Gallery said they tried to expand their hours, and it wound up disastrous with a lot of money lost. She considered expansion might be possible if the whole downtown was behind the idea. She also noted there has to be a good ethic of people shopping locally, otherwise expanded hours would likely do no good. She also took her family into consideration, as expanded hours would mean less time with them.

Ellen Reed of Storyteller has also tried extending hours at the store, which is also regularly open until 8 p.m. during the Second Friday ArtStrolls. During the Christmas season, she said she was open until 7 p.m. but nobody stopped by. Reed added she’s very accommodating if people happen to be coming through outside regular hours and she’s at the store, and she doesn’t kick people out if they are there at closing.

Also, with regard to extended hours, Reed said the people who say they want them don’t come in her store when they’re offered.

Sarah Ferrell of Nature’s Corner said she’s thought about expanding hours, and noted she sees a lot of traffic and appreciation for even staying open until 5:30 p.m. She has also tried to have the store open Sundays, which didn’t work out. If all the businesses downtown could get on board with longer hours, she said, it might be possible, though not much later than 6 p.m., as the majority of people would likely be at home after that.

Having expanded hours would be nice for tourists, Ferrell said, and it might be beneficial to have them for a designated time, such as Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Bernice Balog of WOW Discount said the store was open until 6 p.m., but that was when there were more people working there. As the majority of the work is now done by her, it was taken down to 5 p.m. She has also tried opening an hour early, at 9 a.m., but nobody came. The current hours work well, she said, and the customers seem to be happy.

Jacky Wright of Broadway Bygones said they have done an occasional late night, but it’s not worth doing, She pointed out it’s hard to have a “mom and pop” type business and have a family as well.

Dan Herdt of Owl Creek Graphics said the majority of businesses have to be on board with expanding evening hours, not just two or three. With regard to wares, Herdt pointed out they have some shirts for tourists, but the majority of their stuff is Carhart and work clothes. He has considered later hours for those who need to come in at 7 or 8 p.m. It’s also his policy to be at the store after hours if people need him.

Herdt said he also might have some additional work to do, and the store would be open at those times, but he doesn’t see much traffic then. Even if businesses went to expanded hours, he said, it might not be profitable for a while, as customer traffic is necessary to break even or make a profit. Herdt also suggested there needs to be something downtown to draw tourists. For instance, while there are places to eat in the evening, there’s nothing there to keep people after people finish their meals.

A comment was made during the survey to the fact that committees and people should acknowledge and appreciate what the downtown businesses already do for the community before asking they do more.

 

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