Gwin's Lodge closing down for winter

Owner takes break for first time in 7 years

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2002

A visible sign at Mile 51 of the Sterling Highway will not be lit this winter. Gwin's Lodge and Restaurant will be closed through the winter for the first time in seven years, said owner Robert Siter.

"It was a tough decision, but it's what was best for the business," Siter said.

Siter joins the many recreational businesses on the Kenai Peninsula that cater to tourists during the spring and summer months but shut down for the winter. His is one of two Cooper Landing businesses that will begin a temporary respite this month. But the break won't be because business this year was bad.

"The summer has gotten so large, we will have 50-plus employees next year," Siter said. "I have a family, and I've spent pretty much the entire summer -- from April to now -- away from them. I've left a number of chalets open for the winter, and we're still going to host guests, but the restaurant won't be open."

Howard Mulanax, owner of Cooper Landing Floating and Fishing Co., generally closes his business in October for the winter. He said this year will be different.

"We're going to go on vacation for a year, and we're going to try to retire," he said of himself and his wife, Janice. "We're going to go and visit other parts of Alaska. And from there, I don't know yet."

He said he's already sold most of the equipment he used for his rafting and float-fishing business, but he is retaining his license in the event he chooses to return to reopen.

"Everything is winterized," Mulanax said. "We have a townhouse in Anchorage, and we will return down here every two weeks to check up on things. The whole community knows that we're not abandoning the community. We're still active."

Siter said summer business at Gwin's over the years has grown to a point where he needs to take some time to prepare to adequately host next year's guests. He said plans to expand on what he already offers -- cabins for lodging, fishing gear and license sales, a restaurant and bar -- prompted him to take a step back during the winter.

"We've grown from six cabins to 14. A lot of what we're trying to do for (next) spring we can't do with the winter time competing with summer."

He said slow business in the winter helped him arrive at his decision, and the amount of time put into the business during the summer creates the need for lots of preparation.

"We work a lot of extra hours in the summer," Siter said. "We're probably the only business open 24 hours between Fred Meyer and Girdwood."

Siter's new ventures include adding shuttle service through Cooper Landing to other area businesses and opening a tackle shop and gift shop adjacent to the forthcoming Cooper Landing Visitors Center.

Monday, Siter and his father, George, were busy winterizing the property, making sure the water was turned off and pipes were drained so nothing would freeze and burst and removing perishables and valuables.

His popular restaurant and bar was usually open on the weekends in the winter and hadn't been closed since the first year he took over the business in 1994.

"That was just because it was a new business," Siter said. "This is not to say that it won't be open in future winters."

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