Mariposa merchants open to sluggish weekend sales

A sight never seen before, a deserted downtown Mariposa in July. The entire town, and surrounding areas, were under an mandatory evacuation order from late afternoon July 17 to the afternoon on July 20, due to the Detwiler Fire that got within a mile of the historic downtown area.
A sight never seen before, a deserted downtown Mariposa in July. The entire town, and surrounding areas, were under an mandatory evacuation order from late afternoon July 17 to the afternoon on July 20, due to the Detwiler Fire that got within a mile of the historic downtown area. Sierra Star

With tourist season at its peak, the three-day mandatory evacuation of Mariposa’s downtown last week, due to the fast moving Detwiler Fire, left many cash registers silent.

The fire not only cut off power to 11,000 PG&E customers, but cash flow to the town as well.

In a business community that depends on summer tourists for a large percentage of its annual income, the ‘closing’ of the town will certainly cause damage to its economy. Although no one knows what the total losses will be, some feel it will be significant.

Over the years, there have been a number of rockslides that have closed Highway 140 north of town, but visitors could still get to the hotels and visit stores and shops before driving to Oakhurst to enter Yosemite. The town has never experienced a complete shutdown like this before.

Sandy Senate, who owns and operates the Mariposa Marketplace with her husband Larry, said the shop suffered a “tremendous loss of sales that we will never be able to make up.”

After being open for two hours Saturday morning, only one person had stepped foot in the store.

“You had to move fast when they gave the evacuation notice to stay out of the way of all the fire trucks,” Sandy said. “The smoke and ash were bad. I couldn’t stay outside for very long because it made me sick to my stomach.”

The store features 20 vendors that lease space in the store, selling a large variety of antiques, collectables, gift items, and handmade children’s clothing.

When evacuated, the couple went to their home in Bootjack.

“We had no power and no water, so it was sort of like camping,” Sandy said. “It was hard to sleep knowing that fire was out there.”

The Pizza Factory, on the corner of Highway 49 and 5th Street, will receive shipments the first part of the week, and hopes to be open Thursday or Friday, according to Steven Campbell, general manager.

Campbell said the loss in sales due to the closure will be “several thousands of dollars.”

“After a major fire there seems to be a tendency for tourists to stay away until the fire gets under control,” Campbell said, “but the locals are already calling to see when we will open.”

Bob Borchard, who along with his wife Linda own and operate Bett’s Gold Coin Sports Tavern at the corner of Highway 140 and 5th Street, said it’s hard to comprehend the impact of the fire to the community.

“We probably lost about $100,000 in sales (and food supplies that went bad due to loss of power) during the time we were closed,” Borchard said. “We are a small business and have a razor thin profit margin. We will never be able to make up the revenue we lost, and our employees lost their pay. I would say the entire business community of Mariposa lost about $1 million a day during the closure.

“This fire touched the life of every man, woman and child in this community.”

Borchard did all he could to help get the town back on its feet by declaring Saturday “a state of normalcy,” and providing free hot dogs to anyone who stopped by the tavern.

“This community needs to have some closure over this event, and that’s what we are trying to do,” he said.

The tavern is holding a fundraising breakfast, 6:30 - 11:30 a.m., Aug. 13, with funds going to Mariposa Community Foundation for fire relief for people who lost their homes.

Charles Street Dinner House, at Highway 140 and 7th Street, is owned by Raymond and Jennifer Newman, the couple that purchased and took over Crab Cakes Restaurant in Oakhurst in October.

“We were pretty busy on Saturday night with a lot of firefighters and PG&E employees coming in for dinner,” Raymond said. “Overall, considering this is the busiest time of the year for us, the fire definitely had a big impact on the whole town. We will be involved with the community in doing whatever we can do to help out the victims of the fire to help them get their lives back to normal.”

Noel Morrision, communications manager for the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, said the bureau is surveying lodging properties in the community to see what the extent of the revenue loss they experienced due to hotel closures and cancellations.

“While there were many cancellations reported and significant revenue loss, we understand currently most hotels are back at 90% occupancy,” Morrision said Monday afternoon. “Our priority is ensuring visitors understand that our businesses and roads have fully re-opened and the skies are clear.”

Although business was pretty slow Saturday for Kara Inman, owner/operator of Brick Wall Boutique, located in the Bogan & Co. building established in 1865, she is more concerned about what business might be like in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s a little slow today, but I’m a bit more concerned with the next couple weeks because there is a perception out there that Yosemite is on fire and that, mixed with reports of bad air quality, have many people staying away,” Inman said. “That could have a bigger effect on us than just the past three and a half days. We want people to know that Mariposa is open, Yosemite is open, and we want them to visit soon.”

Her store features clothing, custom jewelry, leather wallets and purses, gifts and body care products.

Inman and her husband, who live on a farm in Bootjack, took in four families that were evacuated from their homes due to the fire.

“We were thankful to provide a safe haven for some of our friends and their animals,” Inman said.

While standing at the entrance to her store, next to a table of freshly picked cherry tomatoes, plums, zucchini, lettuce and fresh organic eggs, Inman said she will donate 25% of her proceeds through Aug. 5 to people who lost their homes. She also plans on donating some new women’s clothing from her store to women who lost everything.

“My heart goes out to all the families that lost their homes,” Inman said, while being optimistic during such a tragedy. “We’re a strong community ... we’ll pull through this.”

Next to Brick Wall Boutique is CostaLivos Olive Oil Store, featuring Don and Kim Costa’s Mountain Gold Olive Oil and wine tasting room.

Don is also the chairman of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce.

“We are certainly thankful to all the great men and women firefighters and other emergency crews that saved our town,” Costa said. “We want everyone to know the town of Mariposa is up and running and we are open for business.”