RAPID CITY, SD (KELO) – This weekend marks the start of tourist season for many businesses in West KELOLAND.
And as families pack for camping trips, gas prices are among the highest yet. This is of concern for some iconic Black Hills attractions.
Wall Drug has been a staple along Interstate 90 for decades, offering free water and 5-cent coffee to people en route to and from the Black Hills.
However, this year the company faces a new challenge.
“Coming in we thought it would be good, maybe not quite so good, but good. What worries me are gas prices,” said Rick Hustead, president of Wall Drug.
Compared to last year, Wall Drug footfall is down 10%.
President Rick Hustead says his business is a dynamic market. This means that people tend to drive to or through Wall Drug when in the area. So if gas prices continue to rise, Hustead says this summer tourist season could be affected.
“They’re talking about $6 gas which I think would impact and diesel on which would impact campers. So it’s a little worrying, but I don’t think it’s going to stop the season,” Hustead said.
It’s not just a concern for Wall Drug. But also for Keystone businesses, like the Big Thunder gold mine.
“We try to be reasonable, we make packages. We know they’re struggling like us, so we want it to be a great vacation for them and to have the best time possible for the amount of money they’re spending,” Sandi McLain, owner of Big Thunder Inc., said.
Big Thunder gold mine owner Sandi McLain says their numbers are down from last year.
“But it’s getting busier and busier with Memorial Day. We hope he keeps up the pace, but the spring has been pretty slow,” McLain said.
We also know that staffing has been an issue for companies around the world, but some have had to adapt to work with fewer employees.
“We have a very loyal staff and they’ve been here quite a long time and they’ve all come back this year,” McLain said.
“In 2019, our normal workforce was 200. In 2020, we had to run with 80 fewer employees, 40% fewer, 120 which was very challenging but we succeeded. But we learned to run with less help. Last year we had 165 employees and did very well in the best year we’ve ever had,” Hustead said.
Wall Drug and Big Thunder say last year’s visitor numbers were among the highest they’ve ever seen.
Although this year’s foot traffic may be a little lower so far, everyone is hoping for a successful summer tourist season, including the t-shirt shop.
“We are a little more relaxed this year. Very grateful for the years gone by, but very anxious for this year,” said Cindy Wicks, owner of the t-shirt shop.
“I have a very positive view of this season, it’s going to be different,” McLain said.
“We are delighted to be fully staffed, it will be a great advantage. We will have a little more Wall Drug open and we are looking forward to this season and we think it will be a good one, ”said Hustead.
These companies say there is still a lot of summer to go. And regardless of high gas prices, they open their doors to anyone who can make the trip.