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Business better than expected in summer '09

Room nights up over last June, July but consumer price still sensitive




Joey Gibbons wasn't sure what to expect of business this summer, coming as it did on the heels of the toughest winter he's ever had in business.

But for his four long-standing Whistler bars/clubs, including the Longhorn and Buffalo Bill's, the stars seemed to align beginning in June, making summer 2009 one of the best on record.

"All of the right pieces lined up for us," said Gibbons. "It's been a really good summer.

"We have the best staff we've ever had and the best management we've ever had... Basically when we got the weather we were prepared for it and were able to do well with it."

From the never-ending sunshine, the all-but-finished highway, the Olympic buzz, the annual festivals, many Whistler businesses have come out of the summer smiling, collectively sighing and taking a deep breath in anticipation of what's to come this winter season.

Gibbons is cautious and sensitive when he speaks about his numbers, well aware that the recession has stung other businesses. But he is not alone in his summer success.

Some businesses are posting double digit increases over last summer. This, after bracing themselves for an uncertain summer season.

Wayne Katz, owner of Zog's, Gone and Moguls' in the village, said August was up 17 per cent over last year for his three stores combined. July was up four per cent over last year.

"It was very busy," he said simply, taking the unusual step of sharing his numbers in the hopes that it will help other local business owners.

"I have to believe that people came out of interest for the Olympics," added Katz. "I have to think that."

While Katz's stores aren't at quite the 2007 sales levels, his best on record, they are up significantly over 2008.

But is it the Olympic buzz creating the business, or are other factors at play?

"Certainly Mother Nature definitely helped us out," said Whistler Blackcomb's President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Brownlie.

"It was an incredible summer from a sun and... warmth point of view and that certainly translated into great business both up the hill to use the Peak 2 Peak gondola and the hiking trails, and also in our mountain bike park."

A small Whistler Blackcomb survey this summer showed that of the people going up the mountains, 76 per cent were going mainly because of the new record-breaking gondola.

When further asked if the Peak 2 Peak influenced their decision to come to Whistler, 58 per cent said it was either a major or a minor factor.