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Tourism's Harsh Winter Months

October 8, 2010, 10:05 PM by Austin Hoffman

Tourism's Harsh Winter Months
KEYSTONE, SD - Tourism is an integral part of the Black Hills economy. The only problem is the large crowds only come in the heat of summer. When the leaves blow away, so do the tourists. In fact, one community nearly shuts down for the winter.

Keystone is home to Mount Rushmore.  It's also a historical mining community and for part of the year, it's a tourist's paradise.

"We rely pretty much solely on the tourism industry in the town of Keystone to bring tourism dollars in for our fundraising for the town.  We've done a lot of things with the town for that reason," Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bonnetta Nedved said.

This time of year, the number of travelers coming through town takes a dramatic drop.

"Peak season numbers would be anywhere from 150 to 200 families a day, per day in our visitors center. Right now were looking at about 25 to 30," Nedved said. 

That number will keep dropping as the weather gets colder.

"We have approximately 115 businesses that are within the city limits of Keystone; about seven or eight of those will stay open all year round," Nedved said.

Linda Swendsen owns Midwest Mercantile, one of many businesses that will soon be closing its doors.

"Now basically, the tourism is all of the bus tours.  A lot of senior citizens are on the bus tours. Our last bus tours will end on October 14, so we are going to be open up to that date," Swendsen said.

"I used to stay open until just before Christmas, but the last two years, I've been closing early because it dies down. The buses aren't coming through like they did in the past," Daisy Chain Owner, Patty Elley, said.

Without the buses, Elley said there isn't enough business to pay the bills.

"There's not enough people on the street to make it worthwhile. There aren't enough people buying to keep, to pay for electricity for one thing," Elley said.

Many of the shops that shut down for winter will be open for another month or so, or until Christmas. But almost every business in one strip mall has already closed their doors.

For business owners, a short selling season can be stressful.

"They figure they have about 90 days to make their entire season income," Nedved said.

"There's a lot of pressure. It's a big gamble, it really is. Because you just, you anticipate what you hope it's going to be and you just have to do the best you can," Swendsen said.

When the signs go up, the few businesses that stay open year round stand guard.

"It’s been very safe up here, and like I say, with the people who are here, they're very diligent to watch everybody's business," Elley said.

While it helps put owners' minds at ease, the stress of owning a seasonal business doesn't necessarily end during the winter.

"I have to take another job in Rapid City," Elley said.

"For the winter, we go home and recuperate," Swendsen said.

Recuperate and start preparing for the next season.

Nedved says it's a common misconception that Mt. Rushmore closes during the winter, but it stays open. And she says the seven or eight shops that do keep the open sign turned on year round offer just about everything a passerby could be looking for.

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