Route 66: Businesses Try Resurfacing on Historic Road
Senior Editor, CNBC
But not every business finds the Mother Road paved with profits—especially newer ones.
Rory Schepisi owns the Boot Hill Saloon and Grillalong a part of Route 66 in Vega, Texas, and says she's been trying to sell the place almost since the day she opened it in 2007.
"I came here with the idea of putting people to work and to help the local economy," says the 35-year-old New Jersey native and culinary school graduate who came to Vega as part of a reality show before buying the building.
"But it's been tough. One night I might get 300 people and the next night no one," she adds.
While Tucumcari has a population of some 5,000 people, Vega—located some 30 miles from Amarillo—has only about 900 residents. That's a very small customer base, says Schepisi, who employees anywhere from 12 to 26 people, pays some $14,000 a year in taxes and has yet to find even one possible buyer for the grill.
"Being on Route 66 is nice but it's not as consistent when it comes to traffic and customers," Schepisi goes on to say. "I love living here but I'm not sure I get all the local support I need to make this work."
It's no secret that many towns along what's left of Route 66 are having hard economic times. According to the Rutgers survey, some 15 percent of the roadway's residents are considered impoverished.
"There are limits to traveling and tourism in terms of dollars spent," says Rutger's Listokin. "Many small businesses face challenges. There are start-up costs, then there are expenses. It's not easy."
Those who do travel and spend on the nearly 2,000 miles left of the route—some 15 percent of them are from overseas—seem driven by a need to go back in time, say experts.
That nostalgia—coupled with modern technology—is reason enough to see a bright future, argues Kevin Mueller.
"We get baby boomers here with their kids and grandkids. We must talk to 100 people a day. And we're open all year long, as well as being on Facebook and we take online reservations. Those are things the previous owner didn't do," says Mueller.
"It's good enough that I want my own kids to have this business when I retire."