The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

December 5, 2012

Tips from Cimarron: When the Scouts come to town


Knives, knives, knives

Valerie Kutz runs Cimarron Art Gallery, a popular combination soda fountain, gift shop, coffee bar, and art cooperative near Philmont Scout Ranch. The former drug store’s iconic soda fountain was installed in 1937, a year before the Philmont land was donated to the Boy Scouts of America.

“It’s a good example of something that was here before the Scouts and yet has served I don’t know how many millions of Scouts over the years,” says Tim O’Neill, a local real estate broker.

Kutz and her husband settled in Cimarron 20 years ago after attending the Philmont Scout Ranch Training Center. The area charmed them, and they also sensed a good business opportunity.

They capitalize on the things that boys love, namely, ice cream and “knives, knives, knives,” she says.

Other popular items for sale in Cimarron’s gift shops include sling shots, ponchos, hats, and arts and crafts — small items the Scouts can carry home in a suitcase for mom.

Philmont’s on-site Scout shop, Tooth of Time Traders, does a booming business supplying the Scouts with equipment, clothing and souvenirs. But often the boys are looking for opportunities to “become engaged in the Cimarron experience and take a piece home,” as the village’s comprehensive plan states.

And for that, they will turn to shops like Kutz’s that advertise authentic collectibles from the area, with a dash of local charm.

“The business community will have to build a support around what they are selling at camp,” says local business woman Deb Saunders of the possible retail opportunities near The Summit, which will also have an on-site store.

“Coordinate with the Scouts on what they are selling and what the boys are allowed to have (at Philmont),” she advises.

“I think your town would see people wanting to have an antique store, curio shop or Dairy Queen — businesses that would benefit from the traffic you’re going to see through your village,” says the town’s clerk administrator, Mindy Cahill.

The village’s small grocery store also does extremely well.

And Russell Sundries, a five and dime “everything” store — formerly a Ben Franklin retail chain — supplies groups with last-minute backpacking odds and ends like bandages, razors, and hangers.

“It’s the ‘Oh my gosh I forgot that’ store,” says Cahill.

Saunders warns that the village has seen seasonal, fly-by-night businesses crop up that have tried to fleece the boys.

“You may have some of that,” she says. “How your business leaders choose to deal with it is going to be up to your community. Here, you have to have a business license so you’re paying gross receipts tax and can’t just set up on the side of the road.

“If you give the Scouts a good product for a fair price and you’re not gouging them, they will tell other Scout troops about it.”

For Cimarron, it’s paying off. In 2008, retail generated nearly $5 million in gross receipts, double what accommodations and food brought in combined. It is consistently their highest-dollar sector.

The town’s share of the taxes on retail sales was about $100,000.



Pizza, ice cream, soda pops

“If you have a pizza place, tell them to get ready,” says Cahill. “The Scouts seem to love that pizza. And hamburgers.”

“They come to town and it’s hamburgers, pizza and ice cream,” says Kutz, whose old-fashioned soda fountain popular among Scouts.

The junk food, she says, is a refreshing change from what they’ve been eating.

“They’ve been on the trail for 10 days eating dehydrated food.”

It has become something of a rite of passage for Scouts to make a meal of pizza in Cimarron after their rigorous hike at Philmont is over.

Simple Simon’s Pizza is their go-to dinner spot. A franchise with locations across the southern Midwest, Simple Simon’s sells the usual pizza, calzones, wings and sandwiches in “a fun-filled, family atmosphere.”

They are also open year-round, which locals appreciate during the winter months when crowds dwindle.

“We have everything from fine dining to fast food,” says Saunders of Cimarron’s restaurant landscape, but she admits there aren’t a ton of options.

She has capitalized on the situation by partnering with a local restaurant, The Porch, to offer catered meals and sack lunches to the Scouts who stay at her inn.

Offering “some kind of food that’s native to your area” near The Summit would be smart, she says.

Given Cimarron’s southwest flavor, perhaps it’s no surprise that Burrito Banquet is another popular place for local meals.

Its owner sells burritos during lunch hours from a food truck for three summer months out of the year and makes enough cash to help support her life as a potter the rest of the time.



Beds and bunks

Often the first opportunity for Scouts to impact Cimarron’s local economy is their choice of where to bed down for the night before they check in at Philmont.

Sometimes they arrive one or more days before a backpacking expedition begins, in which case they stay at the ranch or at a local accommodation.

During the summer, Cimarron’s lodging businesses stay very busy.

RV parks, tent camping areas and hotels do their best to meet customers’ needs, which includes offering a variety of set-ups at a variety of price points.

“They have a range of budgets,” says Saunders. “Some can afford to sleep two Scouts to a room, and others are looking for a bunkhouse situation.”

She says her inn bends over backward to cater to the Boy Scouts, who most often come in groups of 12. After her first year in business, she realized that in addition to regular lodging, there was a need for a bunkhouse.

So she built The Casita — which sleeps 12 and offers a full kitchen for $20 a head — specifically for Scouts, though it is also used for family reunions and groups of hunters.

“A lot of the things you do will translate to being available for other guests, too,” she says.

A huge piece of the puzzle is promoting what there is to see and do in the surrounding area, aside from a visit to Philmont.

When people make a trip this far out, they usually want to see other area attractions. Other regional draws include four ski resorts, a huge arts community in Taos and a vast National Rifle Association shooting range.



Beautification

An initiative by the New River Gorge Regional Economic Development Authority aims to serve as “an inspiration guide for enhancing communities” prior to the arrival of the Boy Scouts of America.

The agency’s Beautification Toolkit encourages local communities to explore enhancement through beautification, storefronts, signage and design guidelines.

The toolkit offers ideas and recommendations to communities for improving the visual reception and image of their area by creating “curb appeal.”

It includes low-cost, high-impact ideas that community leaders, business owners and citizens can enact in their own neighborhoods.

Ideas include:

-- Picking up litter

-- Washing building windows

-- Planting colorful flowers in urns in front of buildings

-- Repainting buildings

-- Repainting signposts

-- Setting up window displays or painting murals on vacant storefronts

-- Planting a gateway garden around the town entrance

-- Setting up recycling bins next to trash cans

-- Volunteering for community projects

-- Painting a mural on the side of a building

Implementation strategies are also included in the resource.

The entire toolkit is available at http://www.nrgrda.org/images/toolkit/.