San Mateo ski shop struggles after fire, burglary and drought

A ski shop owner in San Mateo has faced numerous setbacks including drought, a fire over the summer and a recent burglary.

But he said the forecast for rain and show is helping his business. 

Helm of Sun Valley Ski Shop in San Mateo has been operating out of its storage space after a fire severely  damaged its store.

Owner Gary Hohl said his business relies on personalized service to retain customer loyalty.

 "We want to treat our customers well. We're known for good boot fitting. A lot of people who ski know boots can be uncomfortable," said Hohl. 

 "I've been coming here since 1997. I was just a little kid. I came here as a kid to get skis and boots," said customer Andrew Kwoka.

 Hohl said he has dealt with challenges including  competition from online sales and a fire in August. 

He said surveillance video shows the fire likely started from a faulty lithium battery.

His 8,000-square-foot store and its contents heavily damaged.

 "It's incredible how they melted, said Hohl as he pointed to damaged skis, bindings and boots.     

 He estimated $600,000 in damage.

Hohl said the drought is also a major concern.

But there is a bit of a reprieve Wednesday morning when he heard the weather forecast.

"Steve gets excited with the weather," said Hohle as he referred to KTVU Meteorologist Steve Paulson forecast for snow.

 "Okay, I better get in early. We're going to get busy, " Hohl said worked at the business as a teenager and took over the business four decades ago. .

Now, he is operating it temporarily out of the storage space which is a lot smaller at 800 square feet.

Some work such as employees cleaning smoke-damaged items took place outside in the parking lot.

 Customers say Helm, a small independent business,  is an important part of the community. 

 "They would be able to provide me advice I can not get in a big store," said Maria Bagniewski, a customer who bought new skis and plans to go skiing this weekend.  

 The owner said someone broke into his fire damaged store to steal items just last week.  

 "It's just another challenge. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and go as best you can," Hohl said the key to his business thriving is snow and more snow.

He plans to rebuild his store in its original space by this time next year.