In a typical summer the R Lazy S Ranch hosts 500 or so guests for dude ranch vacations at the base of the Tetons.
Not this year. The dining experience and activities would have been so altered by COVID-19 constraints that the R Lazy S decided to skip a season for the first time in 73 years.
“All of our guests understand,” said Kelly Stirn, who operates the dude ranch with wife Nancy, sons Will and Matt, and Matt’s wife, Rebecca. “Eighty-five percent of them have made reservations for next year.”
And to ease the pain of this year, the dude ranch is getting a Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend in the maximum amount possible, $50,000.
“It’s unbelievable what the state has done for us,” Kelly Stirn said.
The R Lazy S is among more than three dozen Jackson Hole businesses with 50 or fewer employees that have been approved so far for grants from the stipend program, which was created by the Wyoming Legislature using $50 million in CARES Act funds.
When the Wyoming Business Council began processing applications it gave first priority to businesses that are in the lines of work directly named in pandemic closure orders and did not receive federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Lela Hebard’s West Bank salon, Greta and Haakon, is in that category, and she was approved for a stipend in the full amount she requested, she said. Her colleague Jeff Kearns, who rents a chair at Greta and Haakon, also was approved for one.
Hebard said it was a cinch. The night before applications opened June 8, she went on the WyoBizRelief.org site, where she ran some numbers and “got my ducks in order.”
Filing the application “was so easy,” she said. “I literally did it on my phone. It took me less than 10 minutes.”
The Stirns said they appreciated the numerous webinars the Business Council offered to explain how the stipend program worked and also the willingness of state Sen. Mike Gierau and others to answer questions.
And, of course, the cash cushions some of pandemic’s hit on profits.
After being closed for eight weeks, Hebard said, Greta and Haakon still isn’t operating at full capacity due to mandated social distancing and sanitization procedures. Styling stations must be spread apart, for example. She can’t double book clients to give one a trim while the other’s hair is being processed for coloring. And anti-virus cleaning makes the time between clients longer.
Then there’s the worry of another potential shutdown if virus cases surge.
“I can definitely sleep a whole lot better at night,” Hebard said of the Business Interruption Stipend.
The Stirns note that even without guests their dude ranch has expenses. The R Lazy S owns 60 horses that have to be taken care of. There are wranglers, kitchen and maintenance staff and a manager to be paid.
“They had to stay on no matter what,” Kelly Stirn said.
And beyond covering some expenses, the Business Interruption Stipend gives the Stirns some breathing room to explore other things the R Lazy S might offer during this guest-less season.
For example, the family is looking at offering the R Lazy S for photo shoots and as a venue for small weddings and other events — things the dude ranch is normally too busy for during peak season.
“It allows us to offer something this summer,” Matt Stirn said.
As of Tuesday the Business Council said it had paid out more than $12.4 million in stipends. It is posting an ever-growing list of who is receiving how much at WyOpen.gov/wbc, and Jackson Hole’s totals add up to more than $1 million so far.
Among the beneficiaries: Teatonic Kombucha, GaperGuides, Pumpkin Patch Preschool, Bovine and Swine, Dr. Angus Goetz, Rendezvous Bistro Catering, Reincarnation Medical Spa, Inversion Yoga, Iksplor, Womenfolk, Jackson Hole Hideout, Jackson Lodging Co., Jedediah Corporation, 135 E. Broadway LLC (Cafe Genevieve), Il Villaggio Osteria and Pearl Street Bagels.
In early July the Wyoming Business Council plans to launch two other grant programs using CARES Act money. Businesses that received money in the first one can apply for those as well:
– Wyoming Coronavirus Business Relief Stipends of up to $300,000 for those with fewer than 100 employees. A total of $225 million will be available.
- Grants of up to $500,000 from a $50 million Coronavirus Mitigation Fund to reimburse for cleaning supplies, personal protection equipment and employee training related to coronavirus safety measures.