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VAIL STUMBLES UPON HARD TIMES

Throughout this pricey resort town, for-sale signs and papered-over storefronts are becoming as common as ski racks as merchants struggle, and sometimes fail, to keep up with soaring rental rates.

Zero vacancy has been the norm in Vail for years, but shopkeepers say high rents, the growing numbers of people moving "down valley" to towns such as Eagle, and corporate competition could thin their numbers even more.

Rental rates also are driven up by the limited availability of land for new development.

"Every year it gets harder to do business here," says Kaye Ferry, owner of the Daily Grind coffeehouse. "There was a day when people said, 'Oh well,' and went about their business because the business here was so lucrative it justified almost anything it took. These are the kinds of things that just aren't going to work here any more."

Several businesses have closed recently, some have dissolved. But increasingly, businesses simply relocate down valley, where commercial rents are lower and year-round residents -- customers -- are more plentiful.

Steve MacDonald, a commercial real estate agent for Coldwell Banker, says vacancy rates in Vail still are relatively low. But, he says, with high rents and many landlords charging high fees just to sign a lease, filling the vacant storefronts will be difficult.

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