Bargain hunters take to the streets

Steve and Judy Phillips of Columbus, Ga., said it was almost warmer in Steamboat Springs on Friday afternoon than it was in their home 100 miles south of Atlanta.

The Phillipses were among the ski vacationers in short sleeves who were mingling with residents on Lincoln Avenue for the annual bargain-hunting rite of spring known as the Sidewalk Sale. And no, it wasn't really warmer here than in Georgia -- the forecast high for Columbus was 76 degrees. But it's easy to understand how visitors were confused by the March weather in the Rocky Mountains.

The Phillipses spent the first four days of the week skiing and acknowledged the weather wasn't exactly what they expected.

"It's nice here, anyway," Judy Phillips said. "We skied the first four days and then we went snowmobiling yesterday. It was awesome. Even though it's warm down here, the snow was good up there (on Rabbit Ears Pass)."

The Phillipses were carrying yellow shopping bags containing a Roper brand Western shirt they had purchased at 50 percent off at F.M. Light and Sons.

Shelby Guettich of Steamboat was out browsing for bargains. With nine months left in the year, she was hoping to find a steeply discounted 2004 calendar.

At Bucking Rainbow Outfitters, Tom Cox said March has been good to the Orvis fly fishing shop and that the Sidewalk Sale helps them transition into spring.

"We had a good month, and this is a good way to finish it off," Cox said.

The spring snow conditions helped downtown merchants and activity-oriented businesses Cox said, as visitors became savvy. Many figured out that prime skiing took place before noon, and after they'd had their fill, they were looking for other activities, Cox said. There were days when his shop couldn't line up enough trout fishing guides to meet the demand, he added.

John Kole thinks enough of the Sidewalk Sale that he rented some sidewalk frontage from Nite's Rest Motel so that he could move his One Stop Ski Shop from Yampa Street to Lincoln Avenue for two days. Kole had some unmounted Rossignol skis at nearly half price.

"This year is already better than last year," Kole said. "We had rain, snow and hail last year, and I had to work around a big chunk of ice right here."

With a forecast of overnight snow, Steamboat's downtown merchants were taking advantage of the last big ski crowds of the season to transition their inventories from winter to summer.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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