The Valentine’s Day storm that dumped historic levels of rain with accompanying wind and snow, caused massive damage to Hill infrastructure closing two of the main arteries into Idyllwild — highways 243 and 74. Continued post-Feb. 14 rain and snow complicated Caltrans’ efforts to repair both roads, causing setbacks that, until Monday, Feb. 18, caused Caltrans to revise predictions of repair completion to four months for both roads.
With Caltrans’ decision on Monday, March 18 (reported separately) to prioritize repairs on Highway 74 and allow pilot car escorts in four to six weeks during three-hour morning and evening time periods, there are rays of hope for local businesses.
Tourists are still able to get to the Hill directly from the desert and San Diego. And Caltrans will begin running bulletins on freeway electronic signs with directions to Idyllwild via roads that are open. Caltrans also will use social media to note Idyllwild businesses are open.
Even though February is an historically slow month for local businesses, most report significant loss of business with sales down on average from lows of 30 percent to highs of 70 percent or more. Idyllwild businesses are locally owned and operated with most, if not all, operating on very small margins — therefore any business downturn is significant.
Many interviewed businesses, including long-term marquee businesses like Prairie Dove and the Candy Cupboard, reported losses.
But on a sunny Sunday, March 17, with intimations of spring in the air, interviewed business owners were bullish and determined to survive. There also were bright spots.
Manny Solis reported that the county had finally approved the opening of the Solis’ newest enterprise, Mamma Mia’s Crepes and Desserts, on the upper level of The Fort. A clearance still is needed from the Idyllwild Fire Department, but Solis hopes to open in two to three weeks. Meanwhile, although business is down at Fratello’s and the other Solis restaurants, local support and weekend traffic is sustaining them.
Idyllwild Inn was at 80 percent capacity last Wednesday, according to front desk staff, and full for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Candy Cupboard is betting on recovery, with a decision to stay open seven days a week, noon to 6 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
Spruce Moose proprietor Sasha Fisher, with customers in her store on Sunday, said with determination, “The Spruce Moose stays!”
Jenny (Yafen) at 88 Far East International said Idyllwild Arts students were very helpful in regularly buying food products from Asia that she stocks. And even though business was otherwise off by 50 percent, the St. Patrick’s Day weekend was much better that the previous two weeks.
Mim at Coyote Red’s said the last three weeks had been “atrocious” but St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, was busy and promising.
There is no question local businesses are hurting and that some may be forced to close. First, there was the fire in July with a five-day evacuation that hurt local businesses, and now many face an uncertain tourist future caused by road closures for indeterminate periods. But with sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the town was busy, and there was an air of optimism.
The warm weather seemed to dispel some of the gloom that seemingly constant rain and snow had caused. Idyllwild looked good on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
For now, on a sunny weekend, business owners were determined and cautiously hopeful