By Richard Schramm
Economic Development Commission
Eight of the twelve Bed and Breakfasts and other small “accommodation businesses” that completed the Economic Development Commission (EDC) survey last March reported that they faced “critical impediments to remaining viable as a business.” This is almost twice the rate of all 99 businesses completing the survey.
As one B&B owner commented: “Costs of food, utilities, taxes, etc. keep going up but due to the depressed economy – we really can’t raise our room rates. If it keeps up like this most of the B&Bs will be out of business in Woodstock.”
When asked about the impediments to staying viable, most B&Bs reported high costs of doing business (fuel, utilities, snow removal), lower revenues due to the struggling economy, high property taxes, “excessive red tape and inconsistent application of codes,” and a “negative” or “small minded” attitude in Woodstock towards accommodations.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Doing Business in Woodstock
When asked what helps and hurts in doing business in Woodstock, the innkeepers gave high marks to the quality of life (natural environment, recreational choices, cultural opportunities, and sense of community), public safety and police, fire and emergency services, and access to customers and high speed internet.
One business commented that the “quality of life here is exceptional. A beautiful village with nice people.”
On the down side, lodging establishments had difficulty with access to transportation and suppliers, the cost of supplies and equipment service and repair, lack of public transportation and high property taxes. Comments included “when services are available many times they are from a limited number of vendors making the offerings more expensive than other areas” and “if we would have known how high property taxes were here – we might not have moved here even though we do love Woodstock. It’s tough to even break even with the taxes here.”
Importance to the Local Economy
The B&Bs cited in this survey are a perfect example of an export sector that brings considerable funds in to Woodstock from outside the area and then turns around and spends most of these monies locally.
David Kanal, Co-owner of Deer Brook Inn, commenting on this result said, “lodging establishments do fuel the local economy; guests shop locally, eat locally, attend cultural/entertainment venues locally, and even stay with innkeepers before falling in love with Woodstock and then buying houses here (good for the local housing market). As an example, we have had 3 guests buy houses here over the past 2 years and we currently have another 2 guests who are ‘looking’.”
Actions to Strengthen the Woodstock Economy
Many accommodation businesses had suggestions for the EDC and town and village officials. Here is a sampling of their comments:
• Need more comprehensive events calendars, up-dated far enough in advance so that B&Bs can get the word out to potential customers
• Let the B&Bs do more than just bed and breakfast and let them add more rooms
• Need public transportation in town; have the trolley more than just in the fall
• Clean up the East End
• Continue Wireless commitment, Market on the green
• Move beyond somewhat dated “prettiest small town in America” focus with reinvigorated branding and marketing effort to establish Woodstock as a “must visit” destination and event location
Reactions to the Survey Results
David Kanal, wearing his hat as an EDC member, commented further on the survey results and proposed a role for EDC and Town/Village officials:
“CVPS reclassified almost all B&Bs as commercial. . .not only has the rate structure changed (upward) but the rate is now subject to sales tax as well. This has upped B&B electricity costs by over 20% in a tough economy plagued by lower occupancy rates. The inconsistency in this is, why are other home-based businesses [tech providers, woodworkers, consultants] not being “hit” with these increases? . . . Innkeepers. . . would really feel “thought about” if local government or some regional body would fight the war on reinstituting residential rates. . .”
This lobbying for the interests of B&Bs, according to Kanal, should also include (1) getting more of the rooms and meals taxes generated by lodging into tourism marketing and (2) relaxing restrictions on food and “soft alcohol” (beer and wine) sales in B&Bs, a restriction that does not exist in most Vermont townships.
The Survey and Respondents
Thirteen businesses identified themselves in the survey as Accommodations and Food Service. When we examined the data, however, twelve were very small with only 1-3 employees and annual sales below $250,000. We assumed these were in the accommodations business and have reported their responses here. The remaining business with 40 employees and much higher annual sales was more likely a large restaurant or Inn and was removed from the analysis.
The accommodation businesses responding have been in Woodstock an average of 9 years, with one business here for 26 years and two businesses just for a year. Together they had 22 employees, 14 full-time, 8 part-time.
Business owners/managers interested in being part of a focus group should contact the EDC through the Town offices or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Richard Schramm