Lack of Snow Hurts Businesses

It's been an overall mild winter with little snow, and most New England ski areas have had a tough season. But in Rangeley, Maine, the trouble runs deeper than the weather.

The town's largest employer, Saddleback Mountain, has yet to open this year. The ski area's owners have been trying to sell the business, and promised a new buyer would bring a January opening. But fast-forward to mid-February, and Saddleback is still closed.

It's had a trickle-down effect to Main Street, where restaurants are slow, rooms are empty, and business owners are hurting.

"In my lifetime, it's been the worst winter I can think of," said Kash Haley, co-owner of the Parkside and Main restaurant in downtown Rangeley.

He said he has had to close the restaurant two days a week because of lack of customers.

School vacation week should be one of the busiest times of the year in the region, but at the Pleasant St. Bed and Breakfast, Rob Welch has only rented one of his rooms.

"I should be booked," he said.

Welch, who is also a Rangeley Selectman, said 38 percent of his annual income is from Saddleback skiers. He worries that skiers have had to take their business elsewhere this season, and it will be hard to entice them to come back to Rangeley if and when Saddleback opens again.

Another obstacle for the area has been the weather. Rangeley typically gets a substantial amount of traffic from snowmobilers, but this year, trail conditions have suffered.

"One day, it's 18 below, the next day it's 48 degrees," said Welch. "It's the strangest thing."

Welch said he has learned to market the region for other recreational activities, such as snowshoeing and ice fishing. And he is hoping for a strong summer season, to help the tourism economy bounce back.

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