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'Nothing we can do:' Cody businesses prepare for tourism drop during potential government shutdown

The Irma Hotel
Posted at 2:26 PM, Sep 28, 2023

CODY — With a government shutdown looming, tourism-dependent businesses in Cody are preparing for a potential closure of Yellowstone National Park.

In the event of a shutdown, it is unclear what the full impact to the park will be. During the government shutdown in 2018, many national Parks around the country were closed. Visitors were allowed to travel through Yellowstone, but the park didn't have any staff.

Cody residents do expect that uncertainty to have an impact on local businesses. Michael Darby, the owner of the historic Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel, said that the local economy runs on tourism.

"Tourism is it, here in Cody, Wyoming," Darby said. "When the park is closed, our business is probably 25 percent of what it would be prior to the park closing."

Darby

Darby said his business, like many others in downtown Cody, relies on people coming to visit Yellowstone.

"When it's open, it's like, 'Life is good,'" Darby said. "We've got plenty of tourists, our hotel rooms are booked, our restaurant is full, and the gift shop is doing well. When it's closed, it's like 'Turn the lights off.'"

Other businesses enjoy the bonus that tourist season provides. Nathan Kardos, the owner of Trailhead Bar and Grill, said that while they have a great local following, it's noticeably more busy during tourist season, which usually stretched from around May to October.

"It's a huge part of our business," Kardos said. "For about four months, we get a really big boost of tourism."

Kardos

Kardos said that he knows many business owners enjoy the same jolt.

"So many businesses are dependent on the park being open," Kardos said. "Just everything in Cody is based upon that."

Both Kardos and Darby know exactly what implications come from the park being closed. Kardos said there was a noticeable dip in business from last summer's floods, which forced the park to close for eight days.

"When it flooded last year, we shut down for a couple weeks and we definitely saw a downtick in tourism and travel," Kardos said. "We're lucky that we have a good local following, but it still had an impact on us."

Yellowstone Park Closed Entrances

Darby said the Irma Hotel saw many reservations that were forced to cancel and that even after the park reopened, it never quite reached the typical numbers.

"Our business was maybe a third of what it was before the park closed," Darby said. "It never really did quite come back, so it's really important that the park stays open."

That's why both men will be paying close attention to the potential government shutdown, and many others in Cody are unsure of what it will mean for their biggest tourist attraction. Kardos said the silver lining is that the shutdown would come at a time when the heavy tourist season is winding down.

"Hopefully, it just doesn't happen," Kardos said. "If it does, thankfully, we're already at the end of our season anyways."

Darby fears that a shutdown appears to be inevitable, and said that even if it doesn't last long, the damage will already be done for businesses like his.

"There's nothing we can do," Darby said. "The best we can do is just adjust our business. I do believe that even if it's short-lived, a lot of people will change their travel plans and our tourist season is probably over."