Silverton’s slow season

Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 9:04 AM
Some restaurants and shops on Silverton’s main thoroughfare, Greene Street, are closed and boarded up for winter. The local economy remains dependent on summer tourism.
Ryan Martinez helps customers Mike and Bette Lowenstein of Grand Junction at Mattie and Maud’s Cafe in Silverton. Martinez was helping his mother, cafe owner Lori Bond, while on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lori Bond, owner of Mattie and Maud’s Cafe, 1124 Greene St., is keeping her place open throughout the winter. It’s her first winter working in Silverton.

SILVERTON – The barbecue joint on Greene Street is closed until spring. So is Romero’s, a popular Mexican restaurant a block away.

Diners can’t grab a table at Handlebars Restaurant, which is boarded up for winter.

Want a cup of coffee? You’ll have to wait until Friday for Mobius Coffee, which is scheduled to reopen after a winter closure.

As one of Colorado’s most isolated and forbidding high-elevation towns, Silverton has long had a seasonal economy. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad ceases to ferry tourists there from November to May, dramatically reducing the number of visitors. The railroad brought 116,826 tourists to town from May to October 2013.

Silverton’s businesses that remain open through winter tend to be family-run, allowing them to scrape by during the lean months.

“We get a lot of local business,” said Krissy Rhoades, whose family owns Hardrock Restaurant, one of the few establishments that remains open year-round.

Locals frequent the restaurant for Denver Broncos games Sundays. Hardrock also benefits from skiers at Silverton Mountain, which opened for the season Dec. 21.

Many Silverton businesses close on certain weekdays. Some businesses close in November and April, common months to close for rest, relaxation and sometimes renovations.

“After a busy six months, it’s time to rest and rejuvenate,” said Rose Raab, director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce.

Many residents are unemployed or under-employed during the winter, Raab said. They fill their time by cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Nearly everyone in Silverton volunteers in some capacity.

In the doldrums of late fall and early winter, it can be hard to find a place to grab a drink. In November, both Montanya Distillers and Avalanche Brewing Co. were closed. (The watering holes have since reopened.)

Silverton Grocery, at the south end of Greene Street – the town’s only paved road – is another business that remains open year-round. Mark and Darlene Watson keep the business running in winter with the help of a couple of employees.

“It is tough to stay open,” Darlene Watson said.

During July – one of Silverton’s busiest months – three days of sales equal all of February’s, Mark Watson said.

Darlene Watson was part of a group of business people who circulated a petition calling for the town of Silverton to hire an events coordinator to attract more business during the off-season.

Silverton does host a couple of popular winter events, including the Snowscape Winter Festival on Feb. 7-9 at Kendall Mountain and skijoring on Feb. 15-16 on Blair Street.

And, of course, there is Silverton Mountain. Rhoades credited the extreme-ski area with helping inject tourism dollars during an otherwise slow time of year.

“If the mountain wasn’t there, I don’t think we could make it year-round,” she said.

Raab said Silverton Mountain owners Jen and Aaron Brill “have done a lot to improve the winter economy in Silverton.

“We always wish them the best because their success is Silverton’s success in the winter,” she said.

Aaron Brill said Silverton Mountain does not divulge its skier-visit data, but the ski area averages “a couple of hundred people a day.”

Even the ski area, though, is not open every day. It currently operates Friday through Sunday.

Lori Bond is enduring her first winter in Silverton after moving from Durango. She runs Mattie and Maud’s Café, which she is trying to keep operating throughout the winter.

“You pay rent year-round,” she said. “So it makes sense to make rent year-round if you can.”

For some locals, the quietude of winter is a nice break from summer’s frenzy. When the train arrives on summer days, customers expect to get in and out of restaurants and shops quickly. Winter visitors tend to be less hurried.

“The winters are more mellow, so people are more mellow,” Rhoades said.

Susi Shapter, manager at The Great Divide Co., a gift shop and cafe, feels the same.

“We just enjoy the quiet,” she said. “It’s crazy all summer.”

This story has been changed from its original publication to correct the number of tourists the train brings to Silverton.