Fizzle or sizzle? Local businesses give summer progress reportFolks sweltered in the heat that dominated the summer of 2012. Did local businesses match the sizzle or did they fizzle? According to reports from locals, it was a sizzler.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Folks sweltered in the heat that dominated the summer of 2012. Did local businesses match the sizzle or did they fizzle?
According to reports from locals, it was a sizzler.
“Some business owners have said it was the best year ever in a long, long time,” said Coni McKay, executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
2012 was a very strong year with a visible increase compared to last year, McKay said. She added that the small family resorts also had a very strong season in general during the summer months.
“If hotels and resorts are full here, cash registers will ring up and down Broadway,” McKay said.
RETAIL RINGS IT IN
On the south side of Broadway, at the Viking Plaza Mall, business this summer topped last year’s sales.
“There’s definitely more of a local trend up,” said Scot Snitker, Midwest regional manager at Viking Plaza. “It’s been a really good summer.”
A steady climb in sales occurred from May through August. Snitker said sales in stores showed increases over those in 2011 by more than $200,000 in May, $500,000 in June and $600,000 in July. He added that August was also one of the better months of the summer.
Snitker said sales continue to be favorable in September because of back-to-school and Labor Day sales. Stores like Dunham’s Sports also generate traffic for hunting season, he said.
While Snitker isn’t convinced the economy has necessarily turned completely around, he said people are just getting more realistic. He attributes the success of the stores in the Viking Plaza to the locals like Karrow Jewelers and Runestone Eye Care and the corporations that set up shop there.
“The people are what make it,” Snitker said. “They really do a good job.”
TOURISM CASHES IN
Members of the Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality board also saw more visitors this year than last.
“At Carlos Creek Winery, we experienced an average of 15 percent increase over 2011, with the sharpest increase in July,” said owner Tami Bredeson.
Bredeson said per customer purchases were fairly stable so the increase was due to higher customer traffic – a surprise to her, given the high gas prices.
Numbers from Carlos Creek Winery show bus travelers have declined since 2009. Bredeson speculates this may be because baby boomers are not apt to take bus trips. Corporate travelers and family trips, however, are on the incline again.
Last year the state shutdown may have contributed to fewer visitors to the area, Bredeson said. Much of the traffic coming into Carlos Creek Winery comes from Carlos State Park and out-of-state travelers.
Another factor Bredeson said added to the difference between 2012 and 2011 is the weather. The sun shone a lot more in 2012, and tornadoes made fewer appearances, creating more picturesque wedding days and prime fishing conditions. Bredeson credited the Vikingland Sportsman and area lake associations for regularly stocking walleye in most of the area lakes.
“We are beginning to see some fantastic results,” she said. “This will spread around the state and return a great increase on our investment in tourism dollars for our area.”
Groups coming to the area for special events like bike rides, the firefighter convention, state tournaments and antique car club shows also add to the summer crowd.
“We really appreciate the people who bring these groups to our community,” Bredeson said.
BOOMIN’ OR BUSTIN’
The summer boom versus winter drop-off that was common in past years has evened out because there are a lot more year-round residents and activities.
Bowling tournaments and the Sertoma Ice Fishing Challenge are two events McKay noted as helping draw business to the area in the winter months.
Although this summer was a hit, this fall may be hit and miss. Drought conditions will likely affect the fall colors and attract fewer families to take in the scenery.
Contrary to popular belief, winter tourists spend more money per capita than summer tourists, McKay said.
McKay emphasized the need to draw tourists to the area to help recruit skilled workers. Tourism gives Alexandria an opportunity to showcase the community and gives the manufacturing industry a boost, McKay said.
“We are blessed to have economic diversity,” McKay said. “We have a real community spirit, a collaborative spirit.”
KEEPIN’ IT REAL
Before tourists can become residents, or shortly after, they may need to find a home – that may be easier this year than it was last year.
“The market is on a steady increase with sales of the first half of 2012 up 25 percent over the first half of 2011,” said Kevin Mahoney of Coldwell Banker/Crown, Realtors.
Mahoney said the declining unemployment will lead to increased demand for home purchasing, which in turn will lead to increased home values. He is confident that real estate will reverse the current economic situation.
Mahoney said it takes 60 days longer to sell a house today than it did in 2004. While that may not be good news for realtors, it translates into more affordable housing for buyers.
In 2004, home sales in Douglas County totaled 950 compared to 697 in 2011. A non-lake home sold for an average of $125,000 eight years ago; that home cost $117,000 last year.
“Thanks to the slow lowering of the nation’s unemployment rate, the low cost of borrowing money and the return of consumer confidence,” Mahoney said, “all of Douglas County and the nation will enjoy the return of home values soon.”