(This story was updated on 8/10/2023.)
Vermont outdoor businesses were badly battered by the heavy rainfall earlier this month, with heavy flooding and mudslides in the state causing thousands of dollars in damage to stores, including structural impacts to buildings and destroyed merchandise.
The heavy rain also led to unsafe conditions on rivers and lakes and in other recreation areas, further hurting sales for many outfitters.
The storm soaked central Vermont on July 10 with up to 10 inches of rain, flooding streets, causing mudslides, and destroying infrastructure.
The overall financial cost of the deluge is difficult to measure at this point, but the storm has had wide-ranging negative impacts on the state’s outdoor industry – all in the middle of peak summer season.
At Umiak Outdoor Outfitters, owner Steve Brownlee said the storm is costing him $5,000-$10,000 a day in lost revenue as they wait for the rivers to return to safer conditions.
“This is prime time for us. The water has been so high that it’s too dangerous for even our skilled staff to go on the water to see how many trees have dropped in the river and how much the river embankments might have eroded,” he said. “We may not be able to get clients back on the river if hazards are still apparent there.”
In addition to the property damage, the environmental impact of the contamination to the landscape will have lasting negative effects as well.
“Businesses in these hard-hit areas have seen really devastating losses to their inventory and to their property,” said Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. “Whether businesses are open or not, there’s this general sense that Vermont is closed. Retailers are going to bear the brunt of that.”
Case in point is retailer Darkside Snowboards. Its store was hit hard by the flooding in Ludlow on July 10th, with about 28 inches of water rushing into the store, according to Tucker Zink, general manager.
A river behind the store rose and met with mountain runoff, pushing a stream of debris into the store. Zink said they think a log smashed in the front door and let the water in.
They salvaged what they could, including inventory, supplies, and fixtures from the store.
Not many of the store’s products were destroyed, according to Zink. Workers were able to move most of the inventory out, and the items that got wet or muddy were cleaned up and put on sale.
At first, the store’s website was calling the salvage items the Darkside Mudlow sale, then switched it to the Darkside Fludlow sale.
Customers who wanted to support Darkside’s recovery efforts were encouraged to buy the discounted items either online or at its Killington location. The sale seems to have worked.
“We ended up with close to 300 online orders in a two-day span,” Zink said. “At this point we have almost nothing left. All of our Darkside apparel, a bunch of base layers, and some past-season soft goods – all that stuff got cleaned out.”
Their landlord is gutting the building so it can be rebuilt for the winter. At the moment, they’re hoping to salvage their machines for tuning snowboards.
Darkside recently spent about $15,000 renovating the building.
“We’re going to have to start from scratch,” Zink said. That includes redoing the shelving, counters, painting, and flooring.
“It’s been a rough 10 days for us, but we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel,” Zink said.
The flooding was more severe than originally anticipated, according to Ault, and while some businesses scrambled to move inventory to higher ground many didn’t anticipate the water rising so quickly and so high.
Ault said a few of the harder-hit communities include the Montpelier and Barre areas as well as Waterbury and Ludlow. Onion River Outdoors and the Vermont Bicycle Shop were two well-known stores affected by the storm.
According to VT Digger, Onion River in Montpelier had about 50 volunteers show up and help with clean up a couple of days after the storm. The 50-year-old store took on a lot of water and doesn’t have flood insurance. As of July 13, the owners weren’t sure when they could reopen and were planning on holding a salvage sale.
In Barre, the Vermont Bicycle Shop was estimating the storm caused $200,000 in inventory and structural damage, VT Digger reported.
While this storm has affected the industry across all sectors, including bike tours and hiking, Ault said the paddlesports community might be the most affected by the situation because the waterways are contaminated and full of debris and aren’t safe to swim, boat, or fish.
Brownlee at Umiak expected they wouldn’t be able to take clients out on the rivers for another five to 10 days. That’s on top of the area being hit with consistent heavy rain for weeks prior to this big storm.
“The reality is half of the season is over now,” he said. “The first half of it was a real financial challenge.”
Brownlee said the company’s four outposts were damaged in the storm but largely withstood the flooding.
The company’s Waterbury Reservoir outpost, for day-use rentals, tipped over on its side and they still haven’t been able to get it upright. Some of the roofing on the small building was damaged. The storm also mangled some kayak racks. But there wasn’t much damage to inventory.
“Things have been a little bit crazy, but we’ve been able to get back on our feet,” said Hayley Filipiak, program director for Umiak.
Umiak has stopped operations on the heavily affected Lamoille and Winooski rivers and instead has been taking customers to lakes that are safer options, including the Waterbury and Green River reservoirs.
However, they’re not renting out paddleboards because “that’s the easiest type of watercraft to fall out of,” Filipiak said, and the state authorities are still not recommending swimming in the reservoirs. The authorities have approved regular paddling boats like canoes and kayaks, so Umiak is providing those.
“Thankfully a lot of people who had reservations with us have been really understanding and have been either rescheduling their trips to a later date or moving to boat deliveries on the lake instead,” Filipiak said. “We’ve definitely lost a little bit here and there, but our clientele has been understanding and flexible with us.”
As for the retail impact, Brownlee pointed out that traffic and buying has slowed down. He compared it to Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the impact that had on his community. In a situation like this, recreation is not the first thing on people’s minds.
“People’s discretionary dollars are going to help out their neighbors or themselves,” Brownlee said. “When your neighbor’s house washes down the river, you’re not going to run out and buy a kayak. We’re all going to be struggling for more than a year or two after an event like this.”
Ways to Help
Anyone interested in donating to those affected by the storm can visit the website of the Vermont Community Foundation’s Vermont Flood Response and Recovery Fund.
Another fundraising organization is the Vermont Main Street Flood Recovery Fund, which provides direct financial aid to small businesses damaged by the storm.
Several businesses have also set up GoFundMe sites.
This is a great opportunity for people who have a relationship with a store to support them by shopping, Ault said.
She also suggests buying gift cards from those stores, and for businesses that haven’t been affected by the flooding to donate some of their proceeds to those damaged by the storms.
“There’s going to be this slowdown, this pause in tourism and shopping for some time, and this is peak season for those businesses to make the most of summer,” Ault said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.