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October 31, 2012
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Rifle businesses: Hunter's 'tent' at Walmart bad choice

Some Rifle business owners on the north side of the Colorado River are upset at the location of what is commonly called "the hunter's tent" in the Walmart garden center this fall.They claim offering a place for hunters to get information, free coffee, donuts and chili on the south side of the Colorado River, at the big box retailer, has hurt their business.Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Frank Ladd noted that, technically, the chamber has not had a physical tent for hunters to gather under for several years, and the purpose of the attraction is to "make sure hunters get the correct and up-to-date information they need" from area government agencies.The chamber held "hunters expo" opportunities at Walmart's garden center on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Oct. 17-19, 31 and Nov. 1-2.Hunters can enjoy coffee, donuts and chili while they get information about area lodging, restaurants and businesses and meet with federal, state and local agencies.Linda Hunter, owner of Shale Country Liquors, believes her business is down 50 percent this fall, due largely to the location."I just think it was very inconsiderate and wrong," Hunter said. "I think the chamber should work for all businesses in town, not a big box retailer that doesn't need the extra business."Hunter said the tent should be located at a "neutral" site, such as the Garfield County Fairgrounds, where it was located last year. In previous years, when the chamber had the large tent, it was set up at the current park-ride lot at First Street and Railroad Avenue.Ladd said Walmart approached the chamber about holding the event there last year, "to do an expanded version of what we'd done in the past," but the chamber was committed to the fairgrounds."The whole purpose of the hunter's tent, or expo, is a collaboration with the government agencies that work with hunters," Ladd said. "We were asked to coordinate a way they could reach most hunters the most effective way. It wasn't necessarily about local businesses; we just wanted to get them into town, get them the right info and keep them coming back."Ladd said chamber members are welcome to set up tables and provide information on their merchandise as well, but very few have done so in recent years.Ladd said Action Shop Services and Rifle Truck & Trailer brought vehicles like four-wheelers and other equipment hunters might need to Walmart during the expos. Cowboy Joe's gave away elk jerky samples and the Sportsman's Barn and Taxidermy showed examples of their work, too, he said.Rocky Mountain Liquor Store owner Linda Trujillo is also upset at the decision to locate the tent south of the river."Hunting season has always been a buffer for those of us on this side of the river," Trujillo said. "We get some returnees, but new hunters stop south of the river at Walmart, do their shopping there, stop at Choice Liquors on their way out and drive right through Rifle."Trujillo felt the chamber showed favoritism to a large retailer over the small businesses that rely on the hunting seasons to boost business."I'd say I've lost about a third of my business in the last several weeks that hunting season has been going on," she added.Trujillo is a chamber member, but said she had not expressed her concerns to chamber officials.The chamber board held several discussions on the location of the hunter's expo before accepting Walmart's offer, Ladd said. No money was involved, he added.Ladd added chamber members were asked their opinions about the location, and of the few who responded, most were in favor. Now, Ladd said he wasn't surprised some businesses were concerned."I've had two calls on this, one was a chamber member," he added.Kevin Rider, co-owner of Timberline Sports at Railroad Avenue and Third Street, said he had no opinion on the location of the hunting tent."We carry a lot of things Walmart doesn't," he added.Rider said Timberline Sports is a chamber member, and felt all businesses are likely seeing a downturn in customers this fall, for a variety of reasons.Parts House owner Frank Lee said his business hasn't seen much of a drop."Ten years ago, we'd have a lot of hunters stop in, because they were driving older trucks and busses that broke down," he said. "Now they've got new vehicles and fancy stuff. It's kind of become a rich man's sport."Lee said the Parts House is a chamber member and he also felt every business is likely seeing fewer customers due to the hunting tent location.A 2007 study for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, now Parks and Wildlife, found hunting and fishing accounts for $300,000 in direct expenditures each year in the county. On the average, each hunter or angler spends $216 a day while on a trip and their visits help provide over 550 jobs, the study said.City Finance Director Charles Kelty said it is difficult to quantify the impact hunting seasons have on city sales tax revenue. For instance, last October's sales tax numbers were down by two percent in the food category, but general retail was up 8 percent.However, overall sales tax revenues were up 11 percent last October over October 2010, Kelty added.Through Tuesday, Ladd said the hunter's expos at Walmart had attracted more than double the numbers - close to 300 - compared to the fairgrounds last year. "It was a great place for us to hold it at the fairgrounds, but we heard that some of the out-of-town guys had trouble finding it, or they had a hard time turning their rigs around," Ladd said.The chamber board will decide where to hold the events next fall, Ladd stated, but added he's always open to proposals from anywhere in the city.


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The Post Independent Updated Oct 31, 2012 05:04PM Published Oct 31, 2012 05:02PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.