No complaints: Tourism season going well for locals

By Jeff Smith

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Since the weather has been nice there are a lot of people out and about in Hill City. Even though the Sturgis Rally is over there was a good mix of bikers in the area still and families are still trickling in. The tourism season started out slow but it has since turned around.

Bumpin’ Buffalo Restaurant was pleased with the outcome of the Rally. There were some people who were pessimistic because a lot of the bikers came later then people thought they were going to.

Bumpin’ Buffalo owner Michelle Olson said when the bikers came, they came to Hill City. Chef Terri Grundendike said there was above average numbers for the Rally.

The limited menu worked for the bikers and there was a good schedule at Bumpin’ Buffalo. Grundendike and Olson agreed that the number of customers was on par with the 75th Rally.

Olson said some of the busy weekends have made up for the slow spring.

Bumpin’ Buffalo hasn’t been affected all that much by this summer’s rainy weather.

“It closes down our deck but people are willing to wait,” Olson said.

The restaurant also has a point-of-sales system where they text a customer’s phone number if there is a wait for the deck or no seating is available. A lot of the time they will go outside or walk in the shops during their waiting period. The wait time is usually 10-15 minutes at the most.

Olson is planning to close down in the third week of October. Last week they stayed open into November and she doesn’t think that will ever happen again.

“We did it for the locals. This building is so old. It’s a beatiful building but it’s hard as heck to heat,” Olson said.

When the 1880 Train stops and the bus tours stop the season is pretty much over, so businesses are depending on the locals after that.

David Holmgren of the Holy Terror Coffee/ Subway and Dairy Queen shop in Keystone said that business has been up this year. His businesses has had tremendous economic growth.

His businesses don’t benefit much from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Fortunately, business was only down 17 percent this year compared to a normal year when it would be down 40 percent during the Rally.

He said it’s a family destination. They are most popular with grandparents and parents.

This year the shop space was enhanced. The Subway shop went down one space. This made way for more coffee, fudge and other confections in the Holy Terror Coffee and Fudge area.

Technology was also improved in the back and front of the house.

“This increased the speed of service,” Holmgren said.

The amount of seating did not change though. Holmgren said the improvements make work more fun. When it is a fun place to work, there are more customers coming in.

He can’t speak for Keystone as a whole but said that the businesses in the Keystone Mall area are doing well.

Michelle Thomson, President/CEO of the Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association, said people have been optimistic about the summer.

She said in talking to people they are either flat with last year or up.

“Last year we were a little bit up so certainly nobody is complaining this year,” Thomson said.

Thomson is hoping  there is a good fall season.

“Provided that Mother Nature cooperates with us we should stay strong into the fall,” Thomson said.

Hotel occupancy might not be up that much. Thomson guesses that it could be because of the increase in rentals and things like Airbnb. The only thing that might have helped the hotel occupancy rate is the Sturgis Rally. Visitation in the area was definitely up then and it was beneficial to the hotels.

Thomson thinks communities in the Black Hills and have done a really good job of promoting the area’s assets in advertsing and marketing campaigns. The advertising has been more targeted and there are people coming from Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin — the areas that the Black Hills and Badlands advertises. Thomson said there has been some good press nationally and internationally.

Dan McNamara, owner of the Harney Peak Inn in Hill City, saw a decrease visitors in the area during May and June — mostly because of the weather. His inn stays open year-round and it was hard to get people to stay in winter months because most of the the town was closed up.

McNamara is concerned about having an increase of businesses that only stay open during the summer. Even if people can’t stay open every day throughout the winter, maybe they could try to stay open on the weekends.

He can’t stress enough how important it is to not have the town be closed up in the winter. McNamara fully supports the businesses that are open year-round.

A couple stayed at the inn this past winter for three nights and they commented that there wasn’t enough variety in the places to eat.

“We have to take care of the town and business owners can’t just walk away and then be in Hill City for the good times,” McNamara said.

McNamara has owned Harney Peak Inn for six years.

“It has done nothing but increase,” McNamara said.

In the last four months he said there have been full rooms.

“I was full for the Rally. Things were busy here,” McNamara said.

The number of guests in the off season has really taken off. Thanksgiving and Christmas is always busy because people come into the area to visit their families. He also thinks a lot of people stick around for the Olde Tyme Christmas parade and events.

For the most part, there are many people that stay at Harney Peak Inn during the summer. Then in October it moves to having more walk-ins and the place will move to being full exclusively on the weekends. 

Special events in January and February are a huge benefit to him. This year he is thinking about offering special rates for people who will be in Hill City for the community events.

McNamara plans to stay open year-round next year.

“I will evaluate it after the shoulder season,” McNamara said.

He could make a change next spring. He has to pay heat in the building and if there is not enough guests to keep it open then there could be change. 

He has also been affected by a shortage of workers. McNamara has learned to pick up the slack by himself.

“I have been looking for a cleaning person for a year and a half,” McNamara said.

The struggle is those with families say weekends are tough for them.

New restaurants

Maria Lyndoe, owner of Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in Hill City, said the Rally did not go as expected but it was busy enough.

“Things are going OK. We are trying our best to serve people,” Lyndoe said.

A large obstacle for her is time. She doesn’t have time to plan out what she wants for advertising. For her, the best type of advertising is the local people.

“Just telling people about us,” Lyndoe said.

She said 95 percent of the people who have come through the door leave satisifed. Lyndoe thinks that many people don’t realize that the food is authentic when they first come.

“Some might expect Tex-Mex,” Lyndoe said.

It’s been a lot of work for her to keep up with the business in two locations. Not enough help keeps her pretty busy. She is happy to be in Hill City and will manage the business full-time this winter. This summer she has been in Hill City for three days and then three days in Custer at the food truck there.

It’s been difficult being a cook and manager at two locations. She is also a wife and mother.

There might not be many specials at the restaurant because Lyndoe said it is hard when everything is made from scratch. But she is thinking about doing weekly specials or maybe once a day.

Aleaha Ghere, owner of Chute Roosters in Hill City, said the summer has been pretty good so far.

“I think it could definitely be busier but I think for the first summer it’s good to be slow so we can iron out our kinks,” Ghere said.

Ghere thinks the rest of the season will go fairly well. The tourists will be in the area for another month or so and she also has a good Hill City following.

“It’s better than I could have expected, for sure,” Ghere said.

Since there is a local loyalty membership program there should be a successful winter. In addition to that there is a pasta of the day special that has worked out well. There is usually a drink special every day, too.

On Sept. 29 the restaurant will have an end of summer bash. There will be at least five bands and lots of drink specials.

Chute Roosters is planning on staying open this winter.

“We might close down one night a week but we haven’t decided when that will be,” Ghere said.

Ghere has an idea to partner with hotels in the area to create a package deal. Visitors could purchase a room and meals for one low price. She thinks it would be a good idea to get people to stay in the area.

She is also planning to partner with the Black Hills Tour Company to bring parties of people to the restaurant.

“No one has to worry about drinking and driving or the roads,” Ghere said.

She said it’s a pretty exciting venture that will take place this winter.

There are special events that take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Ghere said they are trying to create the right menu  and the right ways to get the food everywhere it needs to go.

Ghere said they are looking at a point-of-sales system. This would allow customers to have pads in their hands so they can order items from their tables and can be sent directly to the kitchen.

She stated that there is a lot of running around since the place is so big.   

According to Ghere, getting the right employees is a challenge.

“It’s hard to find people that actually want to work and I make people work,” Ghere said.

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