JOHNSBURG - The hamlet of North Creek appears to be an island of prosperity, bucking current economic trends.
Businesses -- about a dozen of them -- have opened in the last year or are in the process of opening in time for the anticipated ski boom that flows from Gore Mountain Ski Resort. They are opening despite a sluggish national economy and industry-wide worries that tourism will fall short of expectations, but owners are hopeful that additions to Gore will "connect" skiers to the stores and restaurants in the coming winters.
"It's become a bit of a hub here on Friday and Saturday nights, with cars lining both sides of the street. There are a lot of good things happening," said Sterling Goodspeed, Johnsburg town supervisor. "All the things you see happening should not be happening during a recession."
Bar Vino, a restaurant that offers small plate meals and an expansive wine and beer selection, opened in October in a building that was once an old-fashioned IGA grocery store.
"Now it looks like something maybe you'd see in Manhattan," Goodspeed said.
Michael Bowers, one of the owners, is a builder by day and restaurateur by night. He said that he's served customers from North Creek to Paris. One of the attractions, Bowers said, is that people feel comfortable in the restaurant in everything from a ski suit to a suit and tie.
And Bowers is convinced now is the time to invest. The costs associated with opening a business are lower now than they will be in the coming years, after the economy rebounds.
"An optimist is wrong as many times as a pessimist, but he has more fun," Bowers said.
North Creek, according to local business owners, is relatively isolated from economic hardships elsewhere in the area, state or nation.
"It's a mini-economy that can be created anywhere," Bowers said. "Small-town America has survived for years."
Laura's, a restaurant and bar, is adding to their existing business, and Andie's restaurant and Barking Spider, a sports bar, are about to open.
Andie Waldron is planning to open Andie's Restaurant at Smith's sometime in November. She started the process of launching the business before the economy turned, she said. The reason she's not worried about the success of the restaurant is because she has faith in the local business climate.
"I have strong beliefs that our economy is going to be OK," she said.
Stephanie Leonard is the manager of the Alpine Lodge, which opened this past spring on Main Street. Leonard is also the co-owner of The Source, a new and used sporting goods store in the hamlet.
"We have really high hopes," she said of the sporting goods store. "We've been doing so well."
Another new store, The Foothills of the Adirondacks, a gift and decor shop on Main Street, started business last December.
"It's been awesome. It's been impressive. There's been a lot of great local support," said Katherine Feiden, store owner. "I almost think what is going on with our economy has helped," she said. "They're shopping locally."
North Creek, while now contradicting tough economic times, isn't without its hardships. Mountain & Boarder Town, a sporting goods store, closed last year. The Snow Train, a restaurant, has a "for sale" sign out front. Other businesses have changed owners.
"The reality is, the market will determine what will last and what will not," said Laurie Prescott Arnheiter, owner of Hudson River Trading Co.
Goodspeed said that the Adirondacks present unique challenges, with a higher cost of operation, partly because of strict zoning regulations inside the Adirondack Park. Some businesses, he said, will not weather the ups and downs that come with living and working in the Adirondacks.
"The cost is clearly higher in the Adirondacks than other parts of the state because of the regulatory environment that we work in," Goodspeed said.
One business, the Hudson River Trading Co., has survived -- and thrived -- for more than a decade. While Prescott Arnheiter attributes some of that success to being "pigheaded" and "stubborn," she said she feels like her store is a place where people feel they can purchase different items -- a birthday present or a $3,000 bed.
Bar Vino, like other local businesses that have opened recently, serves many customers on weekend days and evenings. Business owners expect those numbers to be higher once the ski lifts are carrying skiers and boarders down the slopes of Gore -- and hopefully -- into the downtown area. Two additions to the mountain have the ability to help facilitate the rebirth in North Creek, Goodspeed said.
"With (the new) Burnt Ridge (quad chairlift), it's another major infrastructure step from Gore Mountain toward the Ski Bowl."
In a limited fashion, skiers will be able to ski from the Gore base area to the Ski Bowl during peak periods this year, said Mike Pratt, general manager of Gore. The "interconnect," which is expected to be available next year, will allow even more options for skiers and riders, and potentially, the hamlet of North Creek. The lifts and trail systems would interconnect North Creek, the Ski Bowl and main trails at the Gore Mountain Ski Resort.
"We're already having a very positive effect. These businesses aren't starting up because of speculation. They're starting up because our business is growing," he said.
The town supervisor is also hopeful about a free shuttle service the mountain plans to debut this year, which will run from Gore to the Ski Bowl, downtown North Creek and back to Gore during peak weekends, Pratt said.
"It will be reliable and free and it will force exposure to our business population," Goodspeed said.
The Copperfield Inn, which closed in October 2007, is scheduled to reopen in February, said Michael Ellis, a managing member. Along with the 31-room inn, Ellis said Trapper's Tavern and Lorenzo's Restaurant will also be on site.
"We think that because of some of the economic concerns, that should benefit North Creek," Ellis said. "People that would typically go west to ski will come up to Gore because they can drive there."
The inn was considered an anchor of the economy. Prescott Arnheiter, the owner of the Hudson River Trading Co., said the inn is crucial to her business, which is located across from the inn. Sales have slumped since the closure.
Several other projects are offering people a place to stay for a short visit, or a place to live if they choose. Top Ridge, a housing development, and Tall Timbers, a motel, restaurant and townhouse development located near the Johnsburg airport will attract people to the hamlet, Goodspeed said.
Front Street -- townhouses, a motel, a ski club, a restaurant and golf course just north of the base of the Ski Bowl -- also enhances North Creek, Goodspeed said. But these developments don't do enough to create a week-long vacation mentality, Goodspeed said. Thesupervisor suggested a moderately priced hotel on Main Street is needed.
"What we need to do long term is to change Gore from a day trip destination to a destination resort in and of itself," Goodspeed said.
To read more about North Creek, visit Warren Pieces at www.poststar.com/blogs.