By Ethan Weinstein
As Covid restrictions dropped and people acted upon their pent up urge to travel, tourism surged in Killington and Woodstock this past summer and fall.
Few can speak to the Killington economy like Chris Karr, who owns the Karr Group, which operates six eateries in Killington. Plus, Karr serves on the town Select Board. “We’ve surely seen an uptick in business — in all establishments, not just mine,” he said. “The challenge becomes keeping open on a consistent basis.”
Karr has dealt with staff shortages in his restaurants, forcing him to limit his hours of operation. Charity’s and The Foundry are closed two days a week, whereas all of Karr’s businesses used to run all seven days.
Karr credited Killington’s investment in mountain biking operations to much of the summer and fall’s tourism. “That’s helped the entire region grow,” he said, and it’s put “more heads in beds,” helping local lodging businesses.
The current real estate boom, Karr said, also helps explain the success he’s seen in the restaurant business. Not only are second homes being bought with cash, but people are deciding to live in the area full time while working remotely. He said increased enrollment at Killington Elementary School highlights all the new, young families who are here to stay.
Phil Black, who owns The Lookout in Killington as well as Base Camp Outfitters, noted an unprecedented increase in business, too. “The Lookout’s summer was like February vacation for two straight months, followed by an even busier fall,” he said. He called the two seasons “a significant jump from anything I’ve seen in my 30 years here in Killington.”
At Base Camp, which sells all the gear needed to get people enjoying the outdoors, Black mentioned some difficulty acquiring merchandise, but that did little to slow business.
Mountain bike trails opened earlier than usual, and bike-related sales “never let up until a week after Columbus Day,” Black said.
Despite a less than average number of skier visits last last winter caused by travel restrictions on out-of-staters,
Killington Resort posted promising summer and fall numbers. Mountain bike visits were up over 35% compared to 2019 and 2020, hitting 50,000 — a record. Mountain biking’s increased popularity at Killington is also reflected in the resort’s sale of year round season passes (a.k.a. Beast 365 passes), which have more than tripled since in 2019.
The resort expects year-round visits to increase in coming years, with extensive new mountain bike trails planned in partnership with Gravity Logic for the next five year build out. For this winter season, Killington has spent over $5 million on ski-related upgrades, reflecting confidence in the future success of the resort.
Some of the economic success in the town of Killington can be understood through the 2020 Census. In the last 10 years, Killington’s full-time population rose from 811 to 1407, a 73.5% increase. That is one of the largest increases in the state, and an anomaly in Rutland County, which did not see an increase in population overall. Many other Vermont ski resort towns, like Dover, Stratton and Stowe, also saw a significant influx of full-time residents.
It is worth noting that the Census was conducted in the spring of 2020, and many people have continued moving to the area since then, driven by the pandemic.
To the east, Woodstock businesses have seen a similar influx of tourists, and with them, profits.
Jeff Kahn, who owns Unicorn and is the chair of the Village Trustees, told the Vermont Standard that he has seen “nothing like this in the past 15 years.” Kahn has owned his business for 40 years and has seen ups and down in tourist trends. Foot traffic has been up, leading Kahn to keep Unicorn open seven days a week in spite of staffing shortages.
The increase in retail business has accompanied a similar rise in hotel stays. Patrick Fultz, who owns and operates the Sleep Woodstock Motel on Route 4, said that the motel was almost completely booked from the first week of September through October. Early November brought a brief respite, but many rooms are already booked for the holiday season. Fultz and his team have managed the increased business while working one staff member short, unable to fill the position as every business seems to be hiring.
In order to deal with all the tourism, the Woodstock Village Trustees and Chamber of Commerce have allowed pop-up food stands and food trucks, as the town does not have the restaurant capacity to handle all the hungry mouths. That said, The Brasserie, a new restaurant in the village, is slated to open in the near future.
Although staffing shortages make business difficult, the town’s economic development council is investing in the future, allocating $100,000 to market the town over the next couple years. The move is a sign that town leaders believe the staffing problems will only be temporary, and that it is best to court as much business as possible.