With winter a no-show so far this year, it would be expected that Brainerd area businesses catering to tourists would be suffering.
But most say they're doing well despite the lack of snowmobiling and cross country skiing and the uncertain ice fishing conditions that prevailed until recently.
"It's Minnesota and we're making the best of it," said Nancy Krasean, marketing director at Cragun's Conference and Golf Resort.
Snowmobile rentals are nonexistent and the new cross country ski trail hasn't been used, but Cragun's rooms have been rented, thanks to weekenders who enjoy indoor winter recreation and an influx of hockey and basketball teams, Krasean said. The Brainerd Paul Bunyan Classic basketball tournament, for example, brings 90 boys teams to Brainerd on Feb. 10-11 and 80 girls teams on Feb. 17-18. The ice skating rink is being used and rental fish houses have been booked since December, she added.
Snowmobile rentals have been idle all winter at Cragun's, yet business at the resort on Gull Lake has remained steady because of bookings by sports teams. Other area businesses report slower-than-normal business, though not nearly as gloomy as the barren winter landscape might indicate. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
At Breezy Point Resort, business was down in December but has rebounded in January, said Dave Gravdahl, general manager.
"Hockey tournaments have helped," Gravdahl agreed. "But we need snow for the snowmobilers."
Indeed, business will "absolutely triple" at Ernie's on Gull Lake if we get snow, said Craig Dunmire, owner.
"But actually, it's been decent," Dunmire said of business overall. "BIR activities have helped, we've had (snowmobile) radar runs here on the lake and the Christmas parties got us through December."
Snowmobile sales at Brothers Motorsports in Baxter "did really well" early this winter, said Steve Mans, used vehicle manager.
"People in this area are so passionate about snowmobiling they'll wait for snow," Mans said. "If we could get snow tomorrow we'd still have a lot of riding season left. We're optimists. There's still time."
Unlike restaurants in more rural settings, Iven's on the Bay on Highway 371 never has depended on snowmobile traffic to keep the cash register ringing in winter.
"We haven't seen a real big decline (in business) this winter," said Sara McCabe, general manager. "But we re-opened in August and that's helped."
Even bait and tackle store owners who depend on ice fishing say business hasn't been bad. Anglers still were able to get fish houses out with all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
"They really enjoyed not having the trucks out there," said Kari Erickson, owner of Garrison Sports on Lake Mille Lacs. "Are we down money-wise? Yes we are. But it won't kill us."
But a bigger question looms. What does the lack of snow mean for next summer?
Kathy Schroeder, tourism director at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said she discussed that question Tuesday while showing the editor of Midwest Living magazine around the area.
"Will we have lake level issues and golf course maintenance issues?" Schroeder asked. "We already dealt with that last summer. Hopefully we'll get snow and rain so those aren't issues again as we head into the prime season."
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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