Precarious high wire act
“Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it”
Hunter S. Thompson
As regular readers of The Deerfield Valley News will likely know, the Hermitage Club and owner Jim Barnes have been walking a tightrope at Haystack Mountain for a couple of years. We’ve reported, almost weekly, about the difficulties faced by management in keeping the private ski club operating. Its problems paying staff, vendors, and state and local tax departments and creating a sustainable model to keep the operation viable into the foreseeable future have filled countless pages in this publication.
Aside from cash flow woes, the club is facing a number of pending legal actions, including bank foreclosure and fraud allegations, and the Vermont Department of Taxes has forced the club to suspend operations until more than a half million dollars in back sales and payroll taxes are paid.
At this point, it would seem the current management has lost its balance while walking that thin wire between survival and disaster.
The woes have caused much discussion around the valley and on the internet. One such exchange on The Deerfield Valley News’ Facebook page caught our attention. A reader commented “Bad decision by the town to let one man take control of the entire Valley.”
Ah, if it were only that simple. The reality is that no one person can take control of the valley, just as no town government can realistically keep a financial meltdown like the Hermitage Club’s from happening. If someone has enough money and enough brass to buy up properties like Barnes did, they take the risk. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
While we can agree with the sentiment, the reality is much different. Did that “one man,” Barnes, take control of the entire valley? Of course not. But the consequences of the financial tightrope walked by the club, under Barnes’ direction, have continuing ramifications on the region. So in that respect, revisionist history wondering if someone should have done something to stop Barnes sounds good, even if unrealistic.
To say the town (which one?) made a bad decision to allow Barnes and the club to do what it did doesn’t reflect how things work in this country. It’s a relatively free, capitalist society. Someone with money can come in and buy up real estate and properties. The town didn’t tell those inn owners to sell to the club, or not. They made the decision on their own. That’s free market enterprise.
There also were many in the valley rooting for the club’s success. Why wouldn’t they? Here was someone who took a big risk, both financially and to his reputation, to try to make a go at Haystack Mountain. After all, the track record for owners of the ski area is less than stellar. We even jokingly (well, perhaps only half-jokingly) speculated in our April Fools edition earlier this month that Haystack carried a curse upon it. Given that no prior management group has really made a success of running Haystack Mountain it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the current one would run into difficulty as well. The problem is, no one predicted the scale of the flameout.
As news editor Mike Eldred discovered when digging through court records, the number of side deals, shaky deals, and shady deals is staggering. No doubt about that. But honestly, no government entity can stop that. At best, they can only help pick up in the aftermath or take action that may prevent future missteps.
It certainly looks like it will fall to others to clean up the current mess at the Hermitage Club. We assume the judge overseeing Berkshire Bank’s foreclosure action against the club will grant the receiver request the bank wants. Certainly current ownership couldn’t make things better, at least financially. If anything, in the past year the club’s situation got worse.
Just like that high wire walker that makes spectators hold their breath when they miss a step, the Hermitage Club’s tightrope walk is causing many to hold their breath, hoping the club is lucky enough to make it to the other side. Whether it can keep its balance, and what awaits it on the other side, remain to be seen.