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Highway 1 closure cuts off tourists to coastal businesses

Caltrans says it has no estimated timeline yet on when Highway 1 may reopen between SLO County and Big Sur.

After a slide took out both lanes on a section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur, Caltrans said it has no timeline yet on when the coastal highway will reopen to traffic.

The Cambria Chamber of Commerce said at least 50 percent of the town's visitors come through using the Big Sur Highway. Now that it’s closed for several miles, north central coast businesses are left wondering what may be in store for them.

“I’m a veteran of this," Rick Pfhannuche, owner of Redwood Cafe said. "Here we go again.”

Pfannuche has owned and operated Redwood Cafe in Cambria for more than 20 years. He said when the highway closed down in 2017 for more than a year due to a mudslide, sales dropped by a third. 

“People come from all over the world to drive that road," Pfhannuche said. "We get a lot of tourists and they always talk about going up Highway 1.”

Pfannuche says it’s been a hard year, but he’s staying optimistic.

“I’ve got more grey hair, I think I’m an inch shorter too," Pfannuchse said. "But I’m riding the roller coaster, there are so many things going on, just throw one more on the pile. Better days are coming”

Wine tasting in the area is also a big attraction for visitors. Chuck Mulligan, winemaker at Harmony Cellars, said the news of the highway closure and winter storms came the same week when outdoor tastings could resume. 

“I’m irish and I’m headstrong, so we just forge ahead," Mulligan said. "What are your options? Just throw your hands up and give up? That’s not an option for us.”

Right now wineries can only operate tastings outside, but Mulligan said although they may take a hit from weather and the highway closure, they are just trying to make the best of the situation. 

“We are just grateful for anybody who shows up at the door," Mulligan said. "I’m hoping things will get back to normal. We’re planning on it, we’ll be ready to go into full swing tastings as soon as we get the okay.”

Mulligan said north coast businesses are still open and operating and he’s hopeful people will continue to enjoy the area by taking other roadways for now.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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