Extended highway closure puts Carlton Store on the brink
By Ann McCreary
After a nearly snowless winter, the devastating wildfires of summer, and the prolonged closure of state Highway 153 following floods and mudslides, the Carlton General Store is struggling to keep its doors open.
“It’s kind of a day-by-day thing. I’m just putting one foot in front of another,” said store owner Jeff Lyman.
The store is the only business along the stretch of Highway 153 that has been bypassed since Aug. 21, when floods and mudslides north of Carlton forced traffic to be rerouted along the Twisp-Carlton Road, which connects to Highway 153 south of the store.
The store relies on travelers and residents to stop and shop, said Lyman. But traffic passing the store has been drastically reduced during the past six weeks while transportation crews work to repair three damaged sections of Highway 153, a process that has been delayed by a dispute with a property owner.
Repairs to two of the damaged sections are mostly complete and the road along those sections is open, but a third stretch of highway at Benson Creek is still closed because an adjacent property owner has refused to let crews onto his property to repair a washout at that location.
After negotiations with property owner Patrick Fitzgerald reached an impasse, transportation officials designed a new approach to repair the road without entering his property, and are considering acquiring a piece of Fitzgerald’s property through eminent domain to complete the repair.
The project manager said this week that the road at Benson Creek is expected be open to flagged traffic by the middle or end of next week. Repairs to that section will be completed by late October.
The Carlton Store will apparently miss out on the first weekend of deer hunting season, which begins Oct. 11 and draws hunters who travel along Highway 153 in and out of the valley.
“Normally during hunting season we’re really busy. Hunters spend a lot of money. It’s kind of a little send-off to November. But they’re going to be detoured off. With the road closure and the burned area … I don’t know what to expect,” Lyman said.
Lyman said he has posted signs before the detour to the Twisp-Carlton Road letting northbound motorists know the store is open.
The highway was closed off-and-on during the July wildfires, and even when it was open, news of the devastation scared tourists away.
“The tourists make the difference between a loss or break-even, to possible profitability. I haven’t had a profitable day since July. I haven’t taken a paycheck since June. I’d probably just be holding my own [if the road were open],” Lyman said.
During the fires and extended power outages, Lyman kept the Carlton Store open and powered with generators.
“I was open 24 hours a day for eight days straight. There were people just wandering around. It was a place we could congregate in the middle of the night. I had generators going so I had lights on,” he said.
Running the generators cost about $15,000 in fuel, Lyman said.
To cut costs, Lyman decided last month to close the store on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and has reduced the hours of one employee from 30 to seven per week. A second employee works full-time.
Lyman announced this week that he will hold a garage sale at the store, with the goal of raising money to provide a bonus to his two employees. He’ll be offering items for free — ranging from ski boots to lamps — and giving an opportunity for people to donate.
“During the summer I can usually give them [his employees] a little bonus. I’ll put out a donation jar. If people want to make a donation, great. Otherwise if they see something they like, just take it,” he said. The garage sale will continue through next week, Lyman said.