“Surreal” is the word Heidi Armacost used to describe running a small business during a pandemic.
“It’s something that I can’t even really explain,” she said. “It’s so weird to take people on vacations during a pandemic.”
Hells Canyon Raft is a family business in the McCall area. Heidi and Kurt Armacost have owned it for 26 years. Kurt’s father owned it prior.
And similar to Salmon Raft, this small business has made some big decisions and changes to accommodate to the pandemic.
The company has done well and became a tourist attraction for in-state and out-of-state visitors. But Heidi says the pandemic has tripped up their momentum.
“It has stopped us in our tracks,” she said. “But we’re not going out of business, we are going to stay strong and pull through. Hopefully, run more trips than we’ve ever run next year.”
However, the Armacost family has made it work. They have cut trips in half, Heidi now calls them “private trips.” They have also turned away countless people this season.
Along with the Armacost making their modifications, many clients have made changes of their own. They said that around 95% of their customers have delayed their trips until next year.
With less business than normal summer, Heidi says she and her family have changed their lifestyle, but says her family will be fine.
Despite it all, the first thing the Armacost thought of when everything came crashing down was employee safety.
“Keeping our employees safe has been probably our most hectic and trying part of the business,” she said. “We feel pretty strongly about keeping our employees safe and our family. We’re a small family here in McCall, so it is all part of the game we’re playing right now.”
Right before the rafting season began, the Armacost’s hosted employee training for the new protocols. Overwhelmed from hearing the changes and list of new procedures placed for safety, some trainees did not come back.
“There were a couple of people that chose not to move forward, and we respect that more than anything,” Heidi said. “Jumping into a season like this is something you have to sign up for.”
To keep the rafts as clean as possible and to make sure the new protocols are working, the Armacost’s have put more employees on smaller trips. Still, Hells Canyon Raft has yet to have a company case of the coronavirus.
“We have all stayed healthy throughout the season,” she said. “We haven’t seen any cases with our business. We’ve had a couple of employees have close calls with their family members. But nothing within our tight-knit group of guides. We’re seeing it get closer and closer to us and it’s frightening.”
During a year full of uncertainty, Heidi says many people who rescheduled to next year have done so because it gives them something good to look forward to.
“One thing I would love to promote is the idea (of) planning a vacation for next year right now,” she said. “It’s kind of like a carrot you can chase after.”