Businesses gear up for explosion of athletes, visitors

Ready or not ...

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2006


  Andy Rankinen details a new van at Budget Rent A Car in Kenai last weekend. In addition to several vans, he said the company was stocking up on cars. "We got a bunch of new compacts last night," he said. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Andy Rankinen details a new van at Budget Rent A Car in Kenai last weekend. In addition to several vans, he said the company was stocking up on cars. "We got a bunch of new compacts last night," he said.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Businesses lumbering through the winter are prematurely shaking off their slumber in preparation for the Arctic Winter Games.

“Oh, it’s huge, I mean who wouldn’t want a little business in the middle of winter,” said Ted Sisson, manager of Sal’s Klondike Diner in Soldotna. “This is big to us.”

Sisson said he’s buying extra food and adding extra shifts to prepare for the 30 to 40 percent increase in business he expects when visitors flood the town to attend the Games next week.

At Hertz Rent-A-Car in Kenai all vehicles have been reserved and the business is expecting a 50 percent increase in revenue for March of this year compared to March of 2005, said manager Lorraine Henandez.

“For the next week it’s like summer,” she said.

Arctic Winter Games visitors who wait until next week to reserve a vehicle are likely to find themselves in a scramble, she said.

Hertz also is trying to accommodate people who need cars for reasons other than the Games, such as those who need to rent one while their own vehicle is being repaired. However, without advanced reservations, some people may have to look elsewhere, she said.

Many hotels also are brimming with reservations.

“I’ve been working my butt off ... kicking into gear and doing things I may not have done until April,” said Judilee Forrest, manager of Hooligans Lodge in Soldotna. “It’s going to be like the middle of July in March.”

Deep spring cleaning has arrived early, rooms have been painted, flooring replaced and extra food purchased all in preparation for Games guests, she said.

Forrest said she has been urging visitors to make their reservations as early as possible so they are not left without a place to stay.

Occasionally reservations at the lodge have been canceled, but they are quickly refilled, Forrest said.

She said she the lodge has received some desperate pleas from people searching for a place to stay and predicts some visitors may underestimate the demand for lodging and think they will be able to easily to book a room after they arrive.

“They are going to be sadly surprised that they’re not going to,” she said.

Some hotels have been booked for months.

The Kenai Airport Lodge, for example, has been booked for six months by committee members for the Games, said Billy Borgen, part owner of the lodge.

However, a few businesses have been overlooked and may offer procrastinators a last-minute opportunity to find rooms and cars.

“We’re not as high up on the radar screen,” said Richard Miller, owner of Wheels 4 Rent, a used car rental business in Soldotna.

Miller said only a third of his vehicles have been reserved.

And visitors still have an opportunity to reserve a room at the Marydale Manor, said Lela Rosin, the owner and manager of the Soldotna hotel.

Contact information for the hotel was inaccurately listed on the Games’ Web site, and hotel has received few reservations, she said.

Despite the delay, however, Rosin has prepared for a full house, repainting rooms, replacing furniture, refurbishing dishes and hanging new paintings on walls.

“I think it’s going to be a mad rush,” she said. “That’s what I’m hoping anyway.”

But some businesses are anticipating less of a boost.

“I’m not expecting these people to be a bunch of riotous partiers,” said Randy Merritt, bar manager for Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna. “It’s my guess that they’ll be focused on the Games.”

Forrest said she is also expecting Arctic Winter Games visitors to differ from the summer tourists.

In the summer, many of the rooms at Hooligans Lodge are booked by men who are here to fish and drink, but next week many of the reservations appear to have been made by families of athletes, she said.

Buckets Sports Grill in Soldotna will have extra staff, extra beer and extra food, but is not expecting as much business as they have in the summer, said Sarah Lacombe, who works as a waitress.

In the summer, Buckets has seating indoors as well as outdoors on their deck, and people are willing to wait in long lines outside along the boardwalk to be seated, she said.

“I don’t see people waiting on the boardwalk in the winter,” she said.

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