The pain continues along the Highway 120 corridor, where businesses are being crushed by back to-back calamities — late summer’s Rim Fire and the federal government’s continued closure of Yosemite National Park.
One of the latest casualties is a deli and video rental store in Groveland, whose owner plans to close next month.
The Pine Mountain Deli, at 19000 Main St., opened about 11 years ago and will close in mid-November. Owner Pam Harris said recent circumstances left her with no choice but to cut her losses and move on.
“We were already suffering because of the Rim Fire,” Harris said. “Then the shutdown happened, and it was the final nail in the coffin.”
Business at the store declined 75 percent while firefighters battled the Rim Fire throughout much of August and September, Harris said.
“Nobody was here but locals, firefighters and news crews,” she said. “I don’t know where they were eating, but it wasn’t here.”
Harris hoped to recover from the business she lost during the critical late-summer period around Labor Day weekend. Then Yosemite closed again when the government shut down on Oct. 1.
The Small Business Administration recently offered Harris a disaster-relief loan, but she declined.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to put myself in debt to the government over something they caused,” she said. “I’m going to come out of here only owing a small amount, which is better than trying to hang on and letting the bills pile up.”
Harris has set up a “going out of business sale” to sell the movies in the video rental portion of her business for $5 each, excluding new releases. She has also sold all of the deli equipment and hopes to have everything out of the shop by mid-November.
“The thing I’m going to miss the most about all of this is my customers,” Harris said while trying to hold back tears. “The people I deal with on a daily basis is what has kept me going through this, and I’m going to miss every single one of them.”
Harris, a Groveland resident since 1976, began working at the shop as an employee shortly after it opened.
Despite the end of the store, Harris said she doesn’t plan on leaving the area anytime soon. She has lined up some side jobs until other local businesses begin hiring next spring for the tourism season.
“I have to take this for what it is,” she said. “Nothing I can do is going to change these circumstances. This poor little town has struggled terribly.”
Some national parks in other states — including the Grand Canyon — have reopened since Friday, after the Obama administration announced it would allow state governments to foot the bill for operating and maintaining the parks until the shutdown is resolved.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s office had no plans to spend state money on reopening national parks in California, including Yosemite, citing limited cash reserves and no guarantee of reimbursement from the federal government.
In the meantime, tourism officials are urging visitors to keep their reservations and redirecting them to other Mother Lode attractions still open, including Big Trees State Park in Arnold and Railtown 1897 in Jamestown.
James Nagle, executive director of the Yosemite Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce, said the visitor’s center at 11875 Ponderosa Lane was still busy despite the shutdown. He said international tourists have used the center to find other activities and places to see in the area.
Maurice Ruyter, of Milpitas, stopped by the visitor’s center Monday with his wife, Julie, and father-in-law, Al Kovac, of Kansas City, Kan. The trio had planned the trip to show Kovac the devastation from the Rim Fire. They ended up staying Sunday night at the Evergreen Lodge and patronizing businesses in Groveland.
“We came up and hope to spend a little money, take a few pictures and tell people back home that this is a great area,” Ruyter said.
On Monday, Ruyter and his family were preparing to drive over Tioga Pass, which was temporarily closed last week by storms. He said the lack of traffic along the route could be a “blessing in disguise.”
“It should be interesting to see what the park is like now,” he said before departing from the center.
Meanwhile, hospitality businesses are offering specials to attract customers and encourage visitors to keep reservations.
Linda Struhm, who works the front desk at the Hotel Charlotte in Groveland, showed a list of more than a dozen cancelled reservations since Oct. 1 with “park closure” cited as the primary reason.
Struhm has been trying to make the best of the situation and providing customers with information on other places to visit while staying in the Mother Lode, such as the historic communities of Sonora, Columbia and Murphys.
“It might be different than what they planned,” she said, “but sometimes those are the best adventures.”
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