2017-07-13 / Front Page

July Starts Strong

Business: Straits Area Reports Busy Holiday Week
By Kevin R. Hess

Lower gas prices, good weather, and an extended holiday weekend contributed to increased revenues for many area businesses during the weekend leading up to Independence Day.

“It has been incredible,” said Joe Durm, owner of Java Joe’s Café and José’s Cantina at St. Ignace. “If you couldn’t make money this holiday, you might want to close your doors.”

Business owners throughout the area reported significant increases over the holiday. Joe Lieghio, owner of several Mackinaw City hotels and restaurants, reported a 17% increase in revenue compared to the same time last year.

“We had a great holiday weekend,” he said. “It’s probably the best one we’ve ever had.”

Mark Eby, owner of Castle Rock and the Souvenir Barn in St. Ignace, said his businesses are ahead of the past few years, reporting a 2% increase.

“Last year was a fabulous one for our businesses, and this year is looking the same,” he said.

Mr. Eby said more than 5,000 people climbed Castle Rock in four days. An average summer weekday sees between 600 and 700 climbers and an average weekend day sees between 800 and 900.

Several factors play a role in driving tourists to the Straits area. One of them is weather. Although summer in the Straits has been a little cooler and wetter than usual so far, the weather for the holiday weekend was ideal.

“The majority of our tourism comes from southern Michigan, so good weather helps a lot,” said Mr. Eby. “People can get on their phones and see what the weather is going to be. The nicer the weather is, the more it helps bring people up north.”

Another factor in the increased revenue, say business owners, was the fact that July 4 was on a Tuesday, extending the holiday weekend and allowing tourists to stay in town an extra day or two before having to return home to work.

“The day of the week definitely matters,” said Mr. Eby.

For Mr. Durm, his businesses saw increased business starting with the St. Ignace Car Show and have been consistently busy all the way through the July 4 holiday.

“One night, José’s had 49 people still waiting to get in at 9:40 p.m.,” he said.

Gas prices are another likely contributor to increased traffic. While Michigan’s gas prices rose by four cents over the holiday weekend, they were still 12 cents lower than 2016. In some areas of Michigan, gas prices were less than $2 per gallon. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reported that the national average is the lowest it has been in four years, at $2.26 per gallon. In 2014, the national average for a gallon of gas was more than $3.50. The lower gas prices led to more people hitting the road, as tourists from all across the U.S. visited the Straits area. AAA estimates that more than 44 million Americans traveled at least 50 miles from home between June 30 and July 4. If the estimates are accurate, it would make 2017’s Independence Day weekend the most traveled one ever.

“The only year our restaurants were down (in revenue) was 2006 when gas prices were over $4,” said Mr. Durm. “The lower prices are definitely a big factor for so many people traveling.”

Mr. Eby and Mr. Lieghio both also say that an uptick in the national economy, especially a healthier stock market, is a contributing factor.

“Stocks are up and when people have that security, they spend more money,” said Mr. Lieghio.

Mr. Eby also believes that the marketing efforts of the Visitors Bureaus and Chambers of Commerce in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and on Mackinac Island are helping to bring tourists to the Straits area.

“Whatever they’re doing to get the word out, it’s working,” he said.

Straits State Park has seen an increase in visitors. They were fully booked the weekend before and after Independence Day, as well as during the St. Ignace Car Show. Their prospects for the remainder of the season are good, as several weekends are mostly booked, and Labor Day weekend is already full. Other businesses such as the Deer Ranch west of St. Ignace have yet to look at the numbers from the weekend but say they were busy and are confident that their numbers are up from a year ago.

Friday, June 30, through Wednesday, July 5, 135,552 vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge. That is an increase of more than 5,000 from 2016 and an increase of more than 2,000 than 2006, the last time July 4 fell on a Tuesday. 2006 traffic was 1.5% greater than 2016, lending evidence to the belief that the extended holiday weekend was a major factor in the economic increase in the Straits. Saturday, July 1, was the busiest day, as 26,076 crossed the bridge.

Mackinac Island ferries and businesses reported strong traffic over the weekend, as well. (See related story in this issue.)

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