Business: No dogging during summer days
High Country Business Review
John Davis remembers the lazy days of summer in Frisco. Those days are long, long, gone, replaced by tourist traffic.
“When I first opened, winter was our primary season,” said Davis, owner of Frisco Liquors for the last 26 years. “We do just as good in the summer as in the winter these days,”
What happened? The short answer is events.
The National Repertory Orchestra in Summit County and the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival draw classical music fans from the Front Range and out of state. The summer calendar is dotted with free concerts, with all kinds of music reverberating from Breckenridge to Gypsum. There are car shows one weekend and town festivals the next. And new festivals are added every year.
This year’s inaugural Kingdom Days in Breckenridge drew thousands to town for a weekend in June.
In the Vail Valley, markets fill up most summer weekends. Downtown Minturn was first, in 1999, with a downtown market that had perhaps 30 vendors most of the time.
“It started as a way to bring attention to downtown Minturn,” market coordinator Ashley King said. “At first, it was about farmers and flowers and local products. Now we have a good mix of retail, arts and jewelry.”
Better yet, King said, there are several different vendors every week, so there’s always something new to see, or, more accurately, buy.
The Minturn Market brings a few thousand people to town on a busy summer Saturday. The challenge now, King said, is to get some of those people to make a trip to Minturn an all-day affair, whether for hiking, biking or eating in one of the town’s restaurants.
“It’s a great way to spend the day with the family,” King said.
A lot of the Minturn Market vendors spend the night, then set up shop the next day on Meadow Drive in Vail for what’s billed as the state’s largest outdoor summer market.
“You’d better get here by 11 or 11:30 a.m. to get a spot in the parking structure,” market organizer Rick Scalpello said.
Like Minturn, the Vail market was designed to bring people to Meadow Drive, not quite in Vail Village. It’s succeeded beyond the organizers’ hopes. This is the weekly market’s seventh year.
“We’ve been growing by about 20,000 visitors every year,” Scalpello said. “We’ll be well over 100,000 visitors this year.”
The Meadow Drive shop owners welcome the market, especially with that part of Vail in the shadow of one construction project after another.
“Sunday’s the highlight of the week for a lot of people,” Scalpello said.
The Vail market every week sees about 115 vendors set up tents, not counting the Meadow Drive merchants. These days, even other Vail merchants are invited, a change from years past. There are two bands performing every week, and there’s face painting and other activities for kids.
The market has become so popular that late-comers park in the Lionshead parking structure and take shuttle buses back to Vail Village.
“It’s the biggest event in Vail,” Scalpello said. “Bravo! brings people who stay in town, and there might not be a summer season without them, but this is big.”
Classical music, jazz and dance are the big cultural draws in the summer, but the free events can draw big crowds with low humor.
Among the silly events at Kingdom Days in Breckenridge was an outhouse race that Carly Grimes of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber said drew some of the biggest crowds of the weekend.
The outhouse races also drew some national press and TV attention, the kind of free advertising any tourist destination craves.
But a lot of the people who came to Kingdom Days were part of a new group of visitors called heritage tourists, people who spend their summer vacations prowling historic places. Breckenridge, with its long history of mining, its handful of small museums and historic buildings and the open-to-the-public Country Boy gold mine, is a prime destination for those tourists.
That the events and historic attractions are paying off is evident by traffic counts on Interstate 70, which are going up every year despite rising gasoline prices.
And, Davis said, mountain towns are always looking for more events.
Davis is a long-time member of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, and is president of the group this year. He said Frisco and Copper Mountain often work together to bring complimentary events to Summit County.
Last weekend, “Guitar Town” a free weekend of rock and country guitarists turned up the volume at Copper while a Corvette show was held in Frisco. Those events have a lot of the same fans, Davis said.
Next weekend, Little Feat, a band that achieved its initial fame in the 1970s, will play for free on Main Street.
Not every event suits every merchant, Davis said.
“We’re constantly trying to accommodate everybody, which you can’t do,” he said. “But we’re constantly working, trying to fine-tune things,” he said. “W like to have things for people to do all the time.”
The impact has been huge.
Sunday used to be a struggle for a lot of Meadow Drive merchants, Scalpello said. Now, it’s the best summer day of the week for many.
“We just did a study,” Davis said. “We found that events helped astronomically.”
With summer continuing to grow, the next step is the true shoulder seasons.
“We need to find out how we get people here in May and October,” Davis said. “It’s a struggle.”