During last year’s unseasonably warm winter, Lakemoor snowmobile parts dealer Big Kid Powersports was profiled on NBC news as a cold-weather business struggling without snowfall.
This winter, it’s a different story.
“There were days last year where the phone wouldn’t ring. Two or three customers would come in the door,” said Mike Missak, owner of Big Kid Powersports. “Now there’s a line out the door, and the phone is ringing off the hook.”
Missak said business has quadrupled compared with last winter as people are taking advantage of exceptional snowmobiling conditions in McHenry County.
“The river being frozen is huge for us,” he said.
This winter’s heavy snowfall and consistently below-freezing temperatures has business booming for companies on the lower Fox River who are loving the extra snowmobile traffic.
Broken Oar Bar and Grill sponsors Radar Runs, which are eighth mile snowmobile races on the Fox River in Port Barrington. The Radar Runs are drawing unprecedented turnouts, according to manager Bonnie Miske, who said the restaurant hasn’t seen snowmobiling conditions this good since the late 1970s.
“From a business standpoint, the last five years we might get a weekend here or there [of Radar Runs],” Miske said. “For us to have this consistent of a season – this is our fifth consecutive Radar Run – is unprecedented.”
The runs began Jan. 19 and were each Sunday. The final one is today.
Each race brings around 50 or so competitors, but for the Broken Oar – and the other Fox River businesses – it’s the 300 to 400 onlookers buying food and drinks that make the biggest impact.
“I would say the weather is doubling our business this winter compared to what we would normally experience,” she said. “That’s huge for small business.”
Further down the river at Kief’s Reef, restaurant owner Randy Kief has seen an equally impressive winter season thanks to the Radar Runs. His business is up 60 percent compared with this time last year and credits the “best conditions in 20 years” and increased snowmobile traffic, he said.
“If I don’t have the river like this, then things are really quiet,” Kief said. “I can’t make enough money in January and February to keep the doors open. This is helping us substantially. It’s making my life a lot easier.”
At Hermann’s, Manager Marcy Paschky said after two slow winters in a row, the bar now gets 20 to 40 snowmobilers a week who stop by on their way down the river.
“People are thrilled,” Paschky said. “Some people are used to going up north to go snowmobiling. People are excited that they can take their sled out nearby.”
Many businesses on the lower Fox River took a hit this spring after heavy rain caused devastating flood damage to the area – none more so than the Broken Oar, which had more than $10,000 in damages to its piers and grounds, Miske said.
Rawson Bridge Road was closed for 11 days, and an incorrect report from a local TV station informed viewers that the Broken Oar was closed as well. The lack of business left the restaurant “financially devastated,” Miske said.
“We felt like this winter is karma,” she said. “It’s been a happy ending to a sad start to the year.”