Summer is still king, but Kamas is changing
June 19, 2015
Summer is here and campers heading to the Uinta Mountains are beginning to march through Kamas. And for many local businesses, that traffic is a welcome sight.
But it also forces businesses to consider the question that often looms around this time of year: What if I don’t make enough money in summer to sustain me for the rest of the year?
Sean Wharton, owner of The Gateway Grill on Kamas’ Main Street, has seen businesses grapple with that reality for years. He’s been fortunate enough to establish a strong foothold in his 18 years in town, but he’s seen dozens of others fold, often in just a year or two.
"The biggest issue you face as a small business in Kamas is the fluctuation of business levels from season to season," said Wharton, who is also a member of the East Side Planning Commission. "The seasonality is really strong over here. You double or triple your sales in the summer, and if you can’t make enough money, then in the winter you fail."
But Wharton said it doesn’t have to be such a struggle. He would like to see the city take initiatives that would make it easier for businesses to lure campers. For every person heading to the Uintas who stops in Kamas, he said, there are plenty of others who simply pass through.
"It’s really never been considered a destination location or marketed in the way so people come out and visit," Wharton said. "You go to places like West Yellowstone or Lava Hot Springs and you see that. We don’t have a mountain bike trail or anything. The city hasn’t jumped on board to do anything to help us."
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Wharton offered solutions such as building an RV dump station in town.
"If you’re an RV owner, you’ve been camping for a week, you’d love to have an RV dump station right here in Kamas," he said. You can stop and pay five bucks and get some lunch with the kids or something. That would be giant. It would be a big asset to the community."
But there are also businesses that don’t benefit much from the influx of summer campers. Lorraine Jones said hers, a hair salon called Tangled and Teased, is one of them. Businesses that campers don’t patronize, she explained, must have a large enough chunk of the local market share to stay profitable — and that can be a challenge.
"This kind of business is definitely one of those that’s up and down," she said. "You’ve just got to ride it out."
There may be help on the way. As Kamas continues to grow — and the consensus in town is that more growth is coming fast — it will be easier to turn a profit while serving primarily East Side residents.
"That’s what will keep everybody going," Jones said, adding that she sees rapid growth as inevitable. "As far as business, growth is great. It will help out all of us."
While that’s welcome news for businesses, there are also those who believe Kamas is better off as it is, said Cherie Moore, a massage therapist at the Main Street Salon.
"We run up against a lot of fourth-generation families that want to run up and close the gate behind every new family that moves in," she said.
But while Moore values Kamas’ small-town feel, as far as she is concerned, the more the merrier.
"We definitely cater to the locals," she said. "We want to reward them for coming in and shopping local, and I think all the growth will help us do that."