RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — This weekend is the beginning of tourism season for many businesses in Western KELOLAND.

And as families pack up for their camping trips, gas prices are at some of the highest numbers yet. This is concerning for some iconic Black Hills attractions.

Wall Drug has been a staple along Interstate 90 for decades, offering free water and 5-cent coffee for people on their way to and from the Black Hills.

However, this year the business is facing a new challenge.

“Going in, we thought it’d be good, maybe not quite that good but good. What I’m concerned about is the gas prices,” Rick Hustead, Chairman of Wall Drug, said.

Compared to last year, Wall Drug’s visitor numbers are down 10%.

Chairman Rick Hustead says his business is a drive market. This means people tend to drive to or through Wall Drug when in the area. So if the gas prices continue to rise, Hustead says this summer tourism season could be impacted.

“Which they’re talking about 6 dollar gas which I think would impact and diesel over that which would impact the campers. So that’s a little concerning but I don’t think it’s going to stop the season,” Hustead said.

This isn’t just a concern for Wall Drug. But also for businesses in Keystone, like the Big Thunder Gold Mine.

“We try to be reasonable, we put packages together. We know they are struggling like we are struggling and so we want it to be a very good vacation for them and have the best time that they can for the amount of money that they are spending,” Sandi McLain, owner of Big Thunder Inc., said.

The Big Thunder Gold Mine Owner, Sandi McLain, says their numbers are lower compared to last year.

“But it’s getting busier and busier by Memorial Day. We hope it will keep up to par but it’s been quite a slow spring,” McLain said.

We also know that staffing has been an issue for businesses everywhere but some have had to adjust to working with fewer employees.

“We have a very loyal staff and they’ve been here quite a long time and they all returned this year,” McLain said.

“In 2019, our normal staff was 200. In 2020, we had to run with 80 employees less, 40% less, 120 which was very engaging but we made it. But we learned how to run with less help. Last year we had 165 employees and operated very well in the best year we ever had,” Hustead said.

Both Wall Drug and Big Thunder say last year’s visitor numbers were some of the highest they’ve ever seen.

While this year’s foot traffic may be a little lower so far, everyone is hopeful for a successful summer tourism season, including the T-shirt Shop.

“We are a little more relaxed this year. Very grateful for the past years, but very anxious for this year,” Cindy Wicks, Owner of the T-shirt Shop, said.

“I have a very positive outlook on this season, it’s going to be different,” McLain said.

“We are thrilled to be full as far as staffing, that will be a great advantage. We will have a bit more of Wall Drug open and we are looking forward to this season and we think it will be a good one,” Hustead said.

These businesses say there is still a lot of summer left to go. And regardless of the high gas prices, they are opening their doors for everyone who is able to make the trip.

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