Sometimes going downhill is a good thing.
One popular Rochester business has been doing that for 50 years.
In 1965, Jerry and Barb Schliep opened Tyrol Ski & Sports in a small 800-square-foot storefront on Historic Third Street in downtown Rochester. The staff consisted of just Jerry and two employees.
After reading that Rochester had the state's highest per capita income levels because of the presence of Mayo Clinic and IBM, the Schlieps moved from Minneapolis to launch Tyrol Ski. However, skiing was not a common sport in flat Rochester then.
"We started a ski school/club to teach people. It caught on. At one time, we had 11 buses leaving early in the morning to go to ski areas," remembers the now retired Jerry Schliep. "I guess you could say we kind of built our market."
After the start of their ski school and the opening of nearby Welch Village ski hill that same year, popularity of skiing and other winter sports snowballed in Rochester.
While it might feel like winter lasts all year long in Minnesota, it soon became apparent that it would take more than just skis and coats for the store to thrive.
"The challenge was to keep it going throughout the year," said Schliep. "The summers were kind of crazy."
During the first few years, a customer encouraged them to sell English horse riding clothing. That led to many other things, like sailboards, canoes, camping gear and eventually patio furniture.
The trick was to adapt and adopt new product lines as different sports and hobbies became popular nationally as well as locally. Barb Schliep, who recently passed away, helped in those areas by stepping in to work with the finances and the ordering.
Now 50 years later, Tyrol Ski & Sports is still going strong under the ownership of their daughter and son-in-law, Kristen and Robb Welch, in a sprawling 15,000-square-foot store and warehouse complex at 1923 Second St. SW. The staff now runs to 30 employees during the busy winter months.
The Welches took over the business from the retiring Schlieps in 2003. Jerry Schliep says he's very happy with how the next generation is running the business he created.
"These guys are doing fantastic work," he said of the current owners.
For Kristen Welch, running the store has given her new insight into her parents.
it's unique … really enjoyable… to come back to work here. I've gotten to gain an appreciation and know firsthand what they did," she said. "I appreciate talking to customers about how they respect what mom and dad did."
Running an independent sports store wasn't an easy gig and it still isn't, but having knowledge and loyal employees helps a lot, Jerry Schliep and the Welches say gratefully.
From the beginning, the Schlieps made sure to hire people who were enthusiastic about the sports. They enhanced that enthusiasm with regular training about the products and gear that Tyrol sells.
"Customers trust our staff," said Kristen Welch.
And the employees seem to like working at Tyrol. Robb Welch calculates that at least 10 of them have worked there for more than 15 years. That kind of longevity allows them to really get to know customers.
"It's fun when people walk in the front door and you can greet them by their first name. That's one of the real pleasures of being in a business like this," he said. "It's rewarding to continue the legacy."
After 50 years in business, Tyrol has earned the loyalty of generations of customers from Rochester and regional communities, like Red Wing, Winona and Austin.
"I'm just grateful to the customers who kept coming back. I'd hear them say over and over that, 'We're really glad you're here, because otherwide we'd be going to the Cities," said Jerry Schliep.