James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@heartlandpublications.com
November 1, 2012
There is still a chance the Northwest Trading Post, a staple of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 54 years, will remain open.
Phil Francis, the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, attended the West Jefferson Community Partnership Meeting on Friday Oct. 26 to give some good news to all of those concerned about the Trading Post’s future.
“The Northwest Trading Post might not shut down after all,” said Francis.
The Northwest Trading Post’s current contract ends in December, and according to Mark Morgan of the National Parks Service, the current concessioner decided not to bid on the upcoming contract for the 2013 season. So far, the non-profit board that operates the facility had not received any bids to keep it open.
As a non-profit concession for the National Parks Service, the Northwest Trading Post had slowly accumulated a large amount of interest from a loan used to finance an addition made to the property, making the Trading Post unattractive to bidders.
According to Francis, the main deterrent for bidders was the debt service on the earlier construction loan for the addition, which totaled between $400,000 and $500,000.
The Blue Ridge Parkway raised enough money to pay off the Trading Post’s interest, said Francis.
“With the possessory interest gone, the Trading Post should be a much more attractive business for entrepreneurs,” said Francis.
Francis has remained positive that the Trading Post will receive bids now that the interest has been paid off.
“We think there are people interested in bidding,” said Francis.
Francis also said “there is a reasonable chance for bidders to make a profit,” and “as a business, the Trading Post offers a good rate of return.”
At the end of the meeting, Cabot Hamilton, the executive director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, said “this is great news.” He also said losing the Trading Post would have a negative impact on tourism in the county.
Hamilton agreed with Francis, saying “the possessory interest was a major concern for bidders.”
Besides an initial six-figure fee, a bidder will only need to pay a franchise fee of one or two percent of gross profit. The Trading Post has a potential to earn over $300,000 per year, leaving a franchise fee a mere $3,000-$6,000, said Francis.