Blazes Wither Yosemite Trade : Tourism: Stores and hotels are empty inside the evacuated park. Businesses outside the park are suffering too.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The devastating forest fires that have kept Yosemite closed at the peak of the summer tourist season are taking their toll on the hundreds of businesses and concessions that depend on visitors to fill cash registers.

Without the crush of the 20,000 visitors a day who come to eat, sleep, tour and shop in the park during peak periods, the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. alone stands to lose as much as a "few hundred thousand dollars" each day the park remains closed, said John Poimiroo, vice president of communications for the company, the park's main concessionaire.

Still to be assessed are the losses likely to be suffered by hundreds of small businesses in Mariposa County, in which much of the park lies, that depend on Yosemite traffic.

Business at motels and restaurants was down 50% in what is typically the busiest week in the summer, local Chamber of Commerce officials estimated.

With Yosemite's trails and bike paths all but abandoned, Degnan's fast food restaurant was closed and its small delicatessen was doing only a fraction of normal business. Park shuttle buses were empty aside from the occasional park employee or backpackers who straggled down to the valley from higher elevations, oblivious to the evacuation.

The Rev. Dennis Alvernaz, priest at Yosemite's Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church, said the church's four Masses usually draw 1,000 tourists each Sunday. About 20 people attended the single Mass on Sunday.

"The money that the tourists give us helps us last through the winter," he said. "But we're not getting that right now."

The historic Ahwahnee Hotel, the 63-year-old centerpiece of the Curry Co.'s holdings, stood closed to guests, its 123 luxury rooms--most reserved a year in advance--vacant and the majestic Great Lounge Hall empty. The Ahwahnee dining room, where the likes of Queen Elizabeth and President John F. Kennedy have supped, was silent.

"When I walked in and saw that empty dining room, it really hit me," hotel concierge Joyce Perkins said. "I love the tourists; that's why I work here."

The Yosemite Lodge, which runs at full capacity all summer, had filled only half its 495 rooms by Sunday, with most of the guests being media representatives and firefighters.

But the monetary losses, although unwelcome, were not the Curry Co.'s focus, Poimiroo said.

"We are focusing on the preservation of the park because we are a part of it," he said. The company on Sunday called several hundred of its 1,800 employees back to work to help clear brush from buildings as a precaution, Poimiroo said.

The company was also notifying all people who had reservations in the 1,805 rooms in its hotels and cabins to keep away from the park.

Mariposa County, which receives about $1.2 million yearly in room taxes from Yosemite Valley hotels, is a poor county that will feel the loss, said Leroy Radanovich, a former county supervisor.

Jean De Young, executive director of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce, said business was booming Thursday and Friday as people were turned away from the park.

Motels are usually full anyway during the second week in August, the best in the year for tourism business.

But by Sunday all that had changed.

"Now, if they're doing 50%, they're lucky," De Young said.

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