If it had been any other month, Keystone would have made a killing.
Even in cool months like October, millions of dollars are poured into this town of 300 by tourists who swing by on their way to Mount Rushmore.
But during these past two weeks the nation has faced the first partial government shutdown in 17 years, closing Mount Rushmore along with national parks across the country. And the money faucet turned off for one of the Black Hills' most well-known tourist towns.
While the monument will reopen today, thanks to a deal struck between South Dakota and the federal government, those 14 days of closure were still a substantial blow for the local economy.
Tammy Gilbertson, managing partner of the Battle Creek Lodge, said that the town is still calculating the long-term impact of the closure.
In the first week alone, she said, 10 bookings had been canceled at her other site, the Brookside Motel, which has a total of 30 rooms.
“Which is huge for a property our size,” she said. “That’s very, very significant.”
While Keystone tends to close most of its hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions at the end of October, it is still a crucial month for the community. After earning enough revenue in the summer to cover most of their fixed costs, fall is when the town's businesses make most of their profits.
“It’s kind of a season that we use to, quote-unquote, cushion us through the winter,” she said.
In order to cut costs, Gilbertson was forced to shift an on-site manager from full-time to part-time work.
Other businesses made similar evaluations. Either cutting staff hours or considering whether to close before the end of October.
Brandi Hunsaker, owner of The Ruby House, a restaurant in Keystone, said the problem is that such cutbacks affect the town’s economy: employees have less money and therefore have less to spend in bars, restaurants and other businesses.
“It’s a trickle-down effect," she said. "Not only does it affect me; it affects my wait staff; it affects the whole community when we don’t have business.”
In the first week, she said, two tour buses canceled tours — each would have brought 40 visitors that would have eaten at Hunsaker’s restaurant.
But the economic impact is likely to be far bigger for Keystone.
Sandi McLain, president of the Keystone board of trustees, said that unlike other cities in South Dakota, Keystone funds its city infrastructure solely from sales tax revenue rather than property taxes.
McLain said that makes Keystone’s finances uniquely vulnerable to sudden fluctuations in tourist traffic.
“It can affect the economy and the sales tax dollars coming in,” she said.
At this point, McLain said, it remains to be seen how badly Keystone’s finances will be hit.
Nort Johnson, president of the Black Hills, Badlands, Lakes Association, said that while Keystone might be most immediately impacted by the closure of Mount Rushmore, the impact would be felt in the entire Black Hills.
Johnson said that in a typical October, 94,000 people visit Mount Rushmore, spending about $700,000 a day.
“Now, if you extrapolate that, that’s a $21 million loss of revenue to the Black Hills if each of those people don’t come,” he said.
While Johnson said that was a worst-case scenario, even a small hit such as 20 percent fewer visitors than normal, would still have a big impact.
Johnson said that doesn’t even include visitors who have cancelled visits because they can’t come to other national parks in the area: like the Badlands, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.
If those impacts are difficult for non-locals to imagine, they still remain difficult for those who call Keystone home.
“I think everybody underestimates the impact of this,” Gilberston said. “Even up to the time it happened, I don’t think we really believed it would happen.”
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a deal struck on Friday between South Dakota and the federal government to reopen Mount Rushmore.]