As nice as it may be to have a lot of visitors spending a lot of money and providing jobs for locals, it will also be nice to see a few less of them around after the final frenzy of Labor Day weekend, they say.
Tom Wiesen has been working at Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire off and on since he was a little kid back in the 1970’s when his folks still owned the place and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was little more than a working concept.
This summer, Wiesen is tending bar at “the Friendly.” He can’t remember when more people have come and gone through the doors of the popular watering hole and restaurant.
“The numbers we’re seeing are up dramatically not just compared to the last couple of years, but compared to anytime I can remember,” Wiesen said. “On the one hand, business has been great. On the other hand, this pace can wear you out.”
A longtime cook at the establishment, Rik Kralik said he couldn’t agree more.
“Of course it’s great to have a job,” he said. “but this summer has been brutal.”
Fellow cook Tim Egeler, who works at the Village Inn in Empire, said he really is glad that so many visitors are having such a good time in Leelanau County this summer.
“But, me?” Egeler asked rhetorically, “I’ve had absolutely no social life this summer, and I know I’m not the only local saying that. It’s been crazy busy for everybody.”
Over at The Secret Garden, a gift shop in Empire, employee Dianne Navarro theorizes that the naming of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by viewers of the ABC-TV show Good Morning America last year is only one factor of many that may account for a surge in visitors this summer.
“The economy is improving a little, and business is definitely back to its pre-recession level now,” Navarro said. “One thing I’ve been hearing from outof state visitors is that it’s been unbearably hot out west, and much of the American west is literally on fire right now.”
Navarro reported that a customer from Missouri said the temperature there had been 106 degrees for weeks at a time. Although it’s been a hotterthan usual summer in Leelanau County too, it’s been much cooler than in other parts of the country – and more attractive to vacationers seeking relief from the heat.
“Maybe because of the TV show, and maybe because of the ‘Pure Michigan’ ad campaign, more people understand we’re surrounded by water, and this summer that’s exactly what they want,” Navarro said.
Up in Glen Arbor, meanwhile, Monty Basch has been working at Anderson’s IGA grocery for 32 years and now helps manage the place.
“In all the years I’ve worked here, I’d say that if this wasn’t the busiest summer I’ve seen, then it was pretty close,” Basch said. “Having all these customers can be a mixed blessing. We’ve brought on more employees this summer and that’s good. But this pace can’t last, of course, and eventually you have to let some employees go – and that’s not so good.”
Basch said he was happy that the store added high-speed computerized checkout lanes this summer to accommodate the additional shoppers.
Conventional wisdom holds that Labor Day weekend is the last big push of the season for visitors and commerce in Leelanau County, and some businesses begin throttling back after Sept. 3.
“But last year, we had an unusually busy September and October,” Basch noted. “Of course, that was right after the National Lakeshore got all that publicity as the most beautiful place in America. As much as some of us might like the pace to slow down a little, it might not actually slow down right away.”
Basch said he’s observed that although traffic tends to thin after Labor Day weekend, fall visitors tend to be slightly older, more affluent, and more prone to spend money.
“I wouldn’t bet on things getting real quiet, real fast right after Labor Day,” he said.
Over at the Western Avenue Grill in Glen Arbor, head server Cindy Stewart acknowledged that it’s been a long, busy summer from her perspective as well.
“I’d say business doubled if not tripled this summer over last summer,” Stewart said. “Sure, that ‘Good Morning America’ thing made a big difference, but we also have a nice new bike trail in the park this summer. It’s nice to see people having a good time.”
On the other hand, Stewart said, “in the summertime — especially one like this summer — people in this line of work just don’t have a life outside of work. I haven’t minded too much, but I am looking forward to taking a little break next month.”