“Hurry up and wait:” Red Lodge residents speculate on future

RED LODGE — Take a walk down Broadway Avenue in Red Lodge Wednesday. The creek that ripped through town earlier this week still runs high, but it’s quieter.

The bars and retail shops are open, and a customer walking into the Blue Ribbon Bar unleashes a wave of commotion before the door shuts, locals commiserating over beers served in bottles or cans. The only water safe to drink in town comes boiled or in plastic bottles, palettes of which line the main drag, nearly as common as the American flags dangling in front of each shop.

Rocky Roberts, owner of the Blue Ribbon, explains that most businesses in Red Lodge depend on tourist dollars to survive. Visitors to Yellowstone National Park and travelers from Billings are the two primary sources of cash, and most of that comes from three hot summer months of sales. While stores can expect a few bonus sales in winter from skiers, they usually coast on June and July paychecks for an entire year.

With Yellowstone’s northern entrance shut down for now and roads cut off right before their major sale season, some businesses aren’t sure how they’ll make it — and if businesses go, the community goes with them.

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