Small towns near Yosemite, which is closed due to the government shutdown, are feeling an economic burn. Already dealing with the impact of the Rim Fire, Stephanie Chuang reports on the fallout in the area.
For the real impact of the government shutdown, look no farther than the small community of Groveland, off of Highway 120 just outside of Yosemite National Park – home to about three dozen small businesses and their owners who say they may have to close up shop.
Dori Jones is one of those people.
“It’s very emotional. Our heart and soul is in this place,” Jones told NBC Bay Area, sitting in a quiet room filled with tables and tea cups.
The owner of “Dori’s Tea Cottage & Café” added the hardships have dragged on from year to year, making it harder to keep smiling while also trying to survive.
“The last three years we’ve been hit with something around the same time," Jones said. "Two years ago it was the prescribed burn that got out of hand that closed the highway. Last year it was the hantavirus that closed Yosemite, basically closed down Yosemite.”
This year, she and her neighbors along Main Street have had to deal with two heavy blows: first, the Rim Fire, and now, the government shut down forcing the closure of Yosemite. Jones said she lost 75 percent of her business in August and September, two peak months during tourism season.
It’s the same story all along Groveland. Saul Gonzalez, whose family owns Cocina Michoacana Restaurant, said his place lost at least 50 percent of business from the fire. For Doug Edwards, who owns Hotel Charlotte, the impact in three weeks alone was 20 percent of the annual gross revenue.
“Phones were ringing off the hook in the opposite direction,” Edwards described. “So we were running cards backwards, refunding money, anywhere from the $38,000 to $40,000 range in three weeks.”
And on Thursday morning, it was like a broken record for Edwards and his small hotel staff. He said there were more calls today than any other day this week.
“Cancelations just ringing off the hook, so we all have to man the phones and start refunding money,” said Edwards, managing a laugh as he shook his head. “And those are real dollars in our account going back onto customers’ cards.”
It’s not just Groveland that’s hurting. Other Yosemite gateway communities like Mariposa and Oakhurst are also bracing for the worst, although Edwards said those towns were not as badly impacted by the Rim Fire as Groveland.
The Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce estimates that this current park closure will hurt 25 percent of mountain area workers. The hope is to avoid the damage done during the 1995 government shutdown when there was an 80 percent drop in lodging in and around Yosemite. The park lost roughly 300,000 dollars a day, while surrounding communities lost hundreds of thousands more.
Edwards is nervous this time will be worse.
“I predict a quarter of all businesses in the area, not just on the 120 Corridor but near Sonora, will shut down,” he said. “Because it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”