Mammoth can be intense in the summer, but the question for some retailers is how much of that should be in tents.
That would be tent sales, specifically, which came before the town’s planning commission Wednesday and drew an intense discussion, spearheaded by the Tent Sale King, Outdoor Sports owner Philip Hertzog.
“Without these sales in the summertime,” he said, “we’d be out of business. We’re in a shopping mall (the Sierra Center Mall on Old Mammoth Road) that just went from 80 percent vacant to 90 percent vacant.
“Would you rather see a bike sale sign and having prices more competitive than Southern California in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, or would you like to see another vacant storefront?
“We know who is trafficking the (tent) sales. Our sales are not from locals. Our sales come from the traveling public that says hey, there are great deals here, and they react.”
The issue came up after the town received complaints about tent sales, specifically at Outdoor Sports and its apparent disregard for rules set in place in May 2011.
The rule on tent sales allows a total of 15 days a year, which actually was an increase from the nine days a year the town had in place previously.
Value Sports exceeded the limit on tent sales days, both at Outdoor Sports and atits new store, Value Sports, in the outlet mall on Main Street.
On Tuesday, Hertzog met with senior planner Sandra Moberly and agreed to take the tents down for the rest of the year, but that did not close the issue.
Rather, it re-opened an old issue that is under the purview of a special Zoning Code Update committee. The Planning Commission took no action on the matter Wednesday, other than to kick it back to the Zoning Committee.
That does not mean the town staff will be sitting by idly.
“In the coming months, the town staff will allocate more resources to code compliance regarding outdoor sales as well as temporary business banners, although this will be balanced with other work priorities, such as TOT enforcement,” Moberly said in a staff report to the commission.
Meanwhile, Hertzog said businesses along Old Mammoth Road have formed an association to form a year-long calendar, hoping to counter the weight that they feel is coming from the Village.
“The Village has a plan, has permits, and has the ability to conduct events on basically a weekly basis,” he said. “What’s happened is that economic situation has put unusual pressure on Old Mammoth Road.”
Later in his comments, Hertzog said the businesses want to animate Old Mammoth Road to make it into a destination area of town.
“We’d like to have a wine walk; events; fundraisers,” he said. “We’d like to have the Banff Film Festival that’s down in Bishop; we’d like to have private producers. We have a vacant lot next to us and we have a vacant parking lot. We can do things like create a schedule for the year and have it organized so that it meets your criteria.
“But you want a balanced approach. We’re facing unusual macroeconomic problems in terms of our industry, which affects the town, and we’re facing local community issues. So we’re going to try to get smart about it.”
Critics of Hertzog did not show up at the commission meeting, but they bled into the local press last week, particularly by Tom Cage, owner of Kittredge Sports on Main Street and P3 store near the outlet mall, near Base Camp Café.
“We’ve been singled out,” Hertzog said to the commissioners. “Our major competition is Footloose and Kittredge in town. At Kittredge, they’ve got an old Hertz sign, and old fish and an old fishing sign and a banner.
“Footloose has vertical signs and a tent that’s up every day of the summer. The size of the tent is in compliance with the regulations, but that’s not being enforced, either.
“We were singled out in editorial comment in general, but we all have problems.”
The town’s staff report referred to the conundrum directly.
“One consideration is whether modifications would be made to the draft outdoor sales policies and procedures to strike a better balance between a successful business community and an attractive resort community,” Moberly wrote in the report.
“On the one hand, outdoor sales can activate the street frontage and allow businesses an opportunity to capitalize on walk- or drive-by traffic.
“On the other hand, excessive numbers of outdoor sales and associated displays and signage can add to visual clutter, contribute to a ‘tourist trap’ atmosphere and downgrade the town’s resort character.”
One alternative, among many, is to adopt a Breckinridge model, whereby the town manager designates three outdoor sales weekends per summer so that all the retailers (and customers) can pitch away and buy-buy-buy, all at the same time.
That plan would be hard to fathom in Mammoth, though, given its lack of a central retail thoroughfare.