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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Storms' Silver (and Gold) Lining

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Storms' Silver (and Gold) Lining

Sandra Vassar, McDonald's manager, said sales are up over last year at this time. She attributes the increase to road closures and sporting events. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Sandra Vassar, McDonald's manager, said sales are up over last year at this time. She attributes the increase to road closures and sporting events. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Every dark cloud that has dumped snow over Baker City the past 12 days has come with a silver lining for the businesses clumped around Exit 304.

The Best Western Sunridge Inn, Baker Truck Corral, McDonald's — the cluster of businesses that beckon travelers at Baker City's most developed freeway exit — all report better-than-average sales over the span of the recent nasty weather.

In fact, some of them even report making new friends.

Take Dave from Kansas, one of the new favorites at the Baker Truck Corral.

Dave — nobody ever learned his last name, and he was back on the road by Saturday — was stuck in Baker City five days last week. What kept him was not the bad weather alone. But the load he was hauling had been deemed oversize, too big, highway officials decided, to pull through bad weather along the interstate.

His girlfriend back home decided Dave should have "at least one really nice meal on his birthday" at the Truck Corral restaurant, said manager Larena Van Gaasbeck. The Kansas woman faxed the restaurant her credit card number so that Dave would get his birthday wish.

Another trucker, stuck in Baker City almost two weeks with his own oversize load, received Christmas gifts Dec. 25 from the restaurant staff.

The bad weather is never scorned by restaurant staff, Van Gaasbeck said.

"We tease our customers that we're going to get an igloo-building contest going out in our parking lot," she said. "You just do what you can when the weather turns bad. If it snows again here (Tuesday night), they'll be packed in here again like chickens, especially in the smoking room.

"They can shut down the freeway whenever they want, because we like it when they do."

The snow is more like a mixed blessing, said Rob Ferdig, who manages the Baker Truck Corral store. While it's produced an increase in sales of everything from fuel additives to tire chains, it can lead to "people standing four deep all around the store, milling around, playing the lottery or using our wireless Internet and wondering when the roads will clear."

"They'll do just about anything to pass the time. The worst part," he said, "is that every five minutes they ask us if the roads have changed."

Across the street at the Best Western Sunridge Inn, general manager Dennis Drumheller, who's in his first year on the job, can't believe he ever left his home in Minnesota.

"I swore I'd never live in the cold and snow again," he said. "And here I am in Eastern Oregon."

And loving it, especially the extra rooms and meals he's sold the past 12 days. Even the long-haul drivers who sleep in their rigs patronize the restaurant and lounge while they wait for a better road report.

"We're a nice shelter in the storm," he said. "Our hope is that people will stop in before there's trouble on the roads."

Closer to town, business at McDonald's is up four percent over the same period during the previous year, said store manager Sandra Vassar. She believes it's due to two reasons: road closures and local sporting events.

"We're always watching the weather reports, and we schedule (staff) according to the schools' winter sports schedules," she said. "In the wintertime, those are the two things that keep us going."

That four percent increase is good for the bottom line, but it's also good news for the restaurant's 40 or so part-time workers, who see their hours increased with business that good, Vassar said.

Even Baker County Unlimited, the gateway to Baker City for people who choose the 304 exit, has its happy snow tales to tell.

On Monday, a family braved the roads to stop by and check on the possibility of holding a family reunion next summer in Baker City.

Information specialist Betty Duncan has just tallied the number of visitors who signed her guest book in 2003 — 5,278, including 279 foreigners from as far away as Taiwan, Slovakia, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic.

That's a lot of visitors.

But the best snowbound story happened to a fellow Oregonian. A Bend businessman in town for a family emergency was worried about sending and receiving several faxes at the BCU office at 490 Campbell St.

Not to worry, said Myllisa Jensen, BCU's events coordinator. You're here on an emergency, and you shouldn't have to worry about your business. Send and receive away from our fax machine.

"He was very appreciative," she said. Added Duncan: "You just never know who's going to come through your door."

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