“The impact on Gooder Grove in the last week has been terrible. I think we’ll make it through, until next year, hopefully.” That’s hostel owner Colin Gooder, who makes the large bulk of his business by providing wayward hikers a place to crash as they make their ways through Franklin while hiking famous paths like the Bartram or Appalachian Trails, which cut their ways through Western North Carolina. “Just like a flood affects businesses that may not be in the flood plain, these fires were completely unexpected, and it’s definitely hurt our bottom line.” But it’s not just small outdoor adventure businesses like Gooder Grove that have been impacted by this year’s wildfires. Around the corner in downtown Franklin, Ruby City Gem and Mineral Museum has had a particularly tough fall season because of the wildfires. “I think it’s unequivocal. The leaf season is one of our major seasons.” Museum proprietor Kevin Klatt, like many of his downtown business neighbors, has come to rely a great deal on sales driven by fall customers. In the nearly sixty years Ruby City has been in business, Klatt says nothing has ever come close to impacting his business like this year’s wildfires. People come from all over the country, and this year, toward the end of the leaf season the fires broke out. The first week that the fires broke out, we saw probably about a seventy percent drop in sales based on what we would have expected and what they were last year. Town was dead.” According to Town Alderman Adam Kimsey, owner of the Rathskeller Coffee Haus and Pub, not all was lost, despite the drop in sales. “There’s certainly still a spike in business this time of year, with the holidays and fall in general, people still came to the area. It might have even in a weird way attracted a few people. I know a lot of professional photographers and firemen have brought business—but the spike in business compared to a normal year without forest fires is lower.” For the time being the wildfires encircling the town of Franklin continue to blaze, with the Camp Branch Fire now only about 35 percent contained—but with state meteorologists calling for at least an inch of rainfall coming in from the southeast, perhaps business owners in towns like Franklin might just get their wish—with fingers crossed.
For WCQS News, I’m Davin Eldridge.