How Are Resort Retailers Faring This Season?

Stores on the West Coast report brisk business, while lack of snow has hurt East Coast retailers.

While many store owners are trudging through a difficult winter, retailers in key resort areas are reporting a strong start to the season, especially in the Western half of the U.S.

“It’s been consistent, and everything is flowing the way it should be,” said Liz Caruso, owner of Soles of Whistler in Whistler, British Columbia.

In Salt Lake City, Lori Harris, owner of Mary Jane’s Shoes, noted that business is up compared with last year. “We were hit with early snow, which always helps. It drives more people to our location,” she said. “People come from other countries and states. If they haven’t been on a ski vacation, they don’t plan accordingly. Snow boots are always popular.”

Harris was also looking forward to the influx of visitors to the area for the Sundance Film Festival, which kicked off last week.

The retailer tends to get more press during Sundance, which helps attract more shoppers, according to Harris. This year, reality star Kendra Wilkinson will make an appearance at Mary Jane’s to shoot a shopping segment for her show “Kendra On Top.”

In Vail, Colo., Axel’s footwear buyer, Dwane Stover, said the season is looking positive. “Shoes have been great, and the web has been driving shoe sales,” he said. “We’ve had an up season as far as visitors to Vail.”

Stover added that the retailer’s strong web presence helps bring in customers. Menswear brands like John Lobb and Edward Green are the store’s most popular, and Axel’s is beginning to venture into the sneaker world. “We try to pick things that we haven’t tried yet,” Stover said.

Patti Patterson’s Bloomingbirds in Aspen, Colo., marked 35 years in business in 2015. So far this season, shoppers are purchasing cold-weather brands like Pajar and La Canadienne. “There are so many designer stores here now,” she said. “Our theory is that we want to have something for everybody. We have a lot of designer, as well as less expensive products, like Ugg. Both are doing well.”

Sorel continues to be a popular pick for retailers across the board, including JD High Country Outfitters in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which has received plenty of cold weather. “That’s our top winter brand. Those do really well,” said buyer Maggie Jordan.

“Being a ski town, we don’t get super-crazy with Sorel until the two weeks leading up to Christmas,” said Jordan. “But this fall, we are going to take our Sorel boot orders earlier than usual and hit the summer market with some of the less insulated boots. Typically, we don’t sell the big, chunky and furry products until the snow comes.”

JD High Country Outfitters’ manager, Scott Sanchez, credits cold temperatures for his store’s increased sales. “Highs were zero and below zero, so lots of warm boots were sold,” he said. “People are here for outdoor activities. Who wants to ski when it’s 15 below? [In these conditions], people are shopping more and doing in-town activities.”

On the East Coast, snow arrived later this year, which did no favors for Burlington, Vt.-based Dear Lucy. “It was a slow start to the season, but once it picks up, we get lots of tourists for skiing — including Canadians,” said manager Julia Vafias. She added that ship dates have been pushed back on certain styles because of the weather conditions. “Our snow footwear tends to sit a bit longer until the snow comes,” she noted. 

[Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in print 01/25/16]

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