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Late snow boosts central Minnesota lakes area businesses

But in some cases, more white stuff meant fewer customers

Snowmobilers turn off trail to Pickle Factory.JPG
A group of snowmobilers turns off the Paul Bunyan Trail to go to the Pickle Factory in Nisswa in February 2022.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES — In contrast to the 2021 summer of little to no rain, the lakes area saw a glut of snow throughout the past winter. For many businesses, this meant snowmobile business like they hadn't seen in years.

"Most Saturdays we'd have between 80 and 150 sleds come to the Pickle Factory during the day," said Terry Wallin, manager of the city-owned Ye Olde Pickle Factory, which is just off the Paul Bunyan Trail in Nisswa. "That increased revenue for the city, and it was just a nice boost every weekend when the tourists would come up."

Though there was decent snowfall four years ago, Wallin said the area likely hasn't seen a winter like that since 1997.

"Then with events every weekend with the Frozen Fore or the Jubilee, we had an event about every weekend from New Year's to the end of February," Wallin said. "So that really helped out."

Snowmobilers in Nisswa.JPG
Two snowmobiles travel along the Paul Bunyan Trail in downtown Nisswa in February 2022.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The snowmobile traffic was a sight for sore eyes after shutdowns and other ramifications the past two years because of COVID-19.

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"We lost a lot of money that year," Wallin said of 2020.

Lucky's Tavern, across from the Paul Bunyan Trail in Pequot Lakes, experienced a similar rush.

"There's been good snow other years, but this year the snowmobile traffic was like we've never seen. It was incredible," said owner Beau Hanson. "Even during the week, moreso during the weekends, of course. It was an incredible snowmobile winter. Everybody was wanting to get out."

Hanson said he counted 60 snowmobiles out front at one time, though it is hard to say for sure how many they had on a regular basis. It seemed like the pandemic affected traffic, he said.

"I think after the pandemic and with the good snow this year, everything kind of lined up," Hanson said. "I think also they say that 25% of people are now working from home, and I think there are a lot more people around all the time."

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The additional traffic allowed Hanson to offer his employees more shifts than he might normally during the winter.

For just over 19 years, Josh Collins, owner of the Fort Steakhouse in Fort Ripley, has found his restaurant in the perfect spot to serve snowmobilers preparing to hit the trails and those who are coming back from a long day on them.

Collins attributes some of his success to the location as the restaurant is next to a gas station alongside the groomed trails of Highway 371.

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“The local snowmobile club is known for taking good care of our trails, grooming constantly,” Collins said. “We're just sort of fortunate to have a lot of people who can run the groomers and not all snow clubs have that many people, so we're fortunate like I said."

They're grooming a minimum of three times a week so people know the trails are going to be smooth, so they end up at the Fort Steakhouse, branch out and keep coming back, he said.

With a snowy winter, Collins said the restaurant stayed busy, oftentimes with people pounding on the doors to get in before they even open.

“If we didn't have the snow, it would probably be, what I would say is a 20% decrease in business easily in the wintertime,” Collins said.

In other areas the snow definitely didn't hurt, but there may have been a trade-off.

"It seems like for us, a lot of winters that you get a lot of snow and a lot of snowmobilers, you don't get a lot of the locals out and about much," said Roger Hoplin, owner of Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River, which is along the Paul Bunyan Trail. "Where in a normal winter you don't get all the snowmobilers and the weather's kind of nice so the locals are out and about more. A lot of years they tend to equal out."

The winter traffic may even out, but Hoplin said sometimes those who discover his place in the winter will be back in the summer.

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"You're always exposed to different people, which helps your business as well," Hoplin said. "One year we hosted the Minnesota State Hog Rally Harley Owners Group. We probably had 800 motorcycles that stopped in from around the state or nearby states and said, 'Hey, this is kind of neat. If I get back through here I'm stopping again.'"

Tim Speier, Brainerd Dispatch staff writer, contributed to this story.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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