Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Labor Day brings boost for businesses

Wagon Days Parade attracts nearly 20,000 to Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

A horse and buggy puts on a show during the 2006 Wagon Days Big Hitch Parade in Ketchum Saturday afternoon. The parade drew an estimated 18,500 visitors to the area, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau reported. Photo by Willy Cook

Lovely late-summer weather, numerous entertaining events and a large influx of tourists to the Ketchum area dominated the city's signature Wagon Days celebration over the three-day, Labor Day weekend.

"It was another successful Wagon Days," Heather LaMonica Deckard of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau said Tuesday.

According to figures provided by the chamber, it seems many local businesses benefited from Wagon Days crowds over the Labor Day weekend.

Of local businesses surveyed Tuesday in an informal poll by the chamber, 30 percent reported better sales in comparison with last year's Labor Day weekend, and another 54 percent reported similar sales to last year.

With an estimated 18,500 visitors in town, there was hardly a hotel room to be had, a news release sent out by the chamber's public relations coordinator, Ellen Gillespie, further indicates. Some visitors even headed north over Galena Summit to Smiley Creek and Stanley to find lodging, the chamber said.

"Everyone's pretty happy," Gillespie said. "They (local businesses) were packed."

The Labor Day weekend also proved to be a busy one at Sun Valley Resort this year, much like it usually is, said Jack Sibbach, director of the resort's marketing and public relations.

"It was a real good weekend," Sibbach said. "Labor Day is usually a pretty good weekend."

In terms of occupancy rates, Saturday was most busy at Sun Valley Resort's various lodging locations, he said.

"We had only a few rooms available," Sibbach said.

The resort's two main events over the weekend—the Sun Valley Ice Show and the Silver Collector Car Auction—both drew a high number of people, he said.

"The ice show was great," Sibbach said. "There were a lot of people at it."

While touring the resort on Saturday, Sibbach said he saw restaurants doing brisk business, too.

"The restaurants were busy all day long," he said.

At Sun Valley Resort's retail stores, business was also brisk.

"I know there were sales going on all day," he said. "I don't know how much they bought, but there were sales going on all day."

Overall, the summer of 2006 has been a solid business season for the resort.

"It has been a good summer," Sibbach said. "I think a lot of it was return business."

At Perry's restaurant in Ketchum, business was also up significantly over the Labor Day weekend, the restaurant's owner, Keith Perry, said Tuesday.

"It was busy," Perry said.

The higher level of business has been largely the case throughout the entire summer, he said.

Perry, who tracks daily business figures from year to year, said business was up about 10 percent on Saturday and a full 68 percent on Sunday compared to last year at the same time. On Monday, however, business was down slightly. Overall, however, business at Perry's over the Labor Day weekend was up about 35 percent.

"It was almost scary good," he said. "We had the busiest breakfast day ever on Sunday."

Compared to last year, business at Perry's restaurant has been up about 15 percent this year, Perry said.

"And last year was good," he said. "So it's been good."

The success this summer may have something to do with the wildfires burning in the Stanley area, Perry speculated. Typically, tourists to the Wood River Valley and Stanley split their time between the two areas.

"I'm wondering if not as many people did that."


Mule mishap delays parade

Despite the brief holdup it caused near the end of last Saturday's Wagon Days Parade, the fall of one of 20 mules pulling six connected ore wagons through Ketchum's downtown streets had little effect on the overall success of the event.

Called the Big Hitch, the wrap-up to Ketchum's highly popular parade, it is a re-enactment of one of the more colorful aspects of Idaho's mining history. Ever since Bobby Tanner resurrected the art of using a jerk line to direct a team of mules and returned it to the Wagon Days Big Hitch Parade in 2001—after a three-decade hiatus—it has been the highlight of Wagon Days.

Tanner is a resident of Bishop, Calif., and is one of the few remaining muleskinners who still knows the art of the jerk line. The jerk line is attached to each member of a team of mules and is manipulated by a number of distinct whips and jerks, which command the highly trained animals.

Where the 20-mule procession makes a hard right turn from Sun Valley Road before heading north on Main Street, one of the last four mules, located closest to the wagons, took a fall.

Although it had already completed the turn, the mule kept turning to the right, Wagon Days parade marshal Ron Brans said Tuesday.

The mule was one of the youngest in the jerk line.

"He (the young mule) decided to go back the other way," Brans said.

When the mule did that, he bumped into one of the rear-wheel mules and immediately fell to the ground.

"It's not a big deal," Brans said.

Seeing the mule fall, Tanner immediately stopped the entire procession.

Like all mules, which in general are known for their easygoing demeanor, the young mule waited patiently as Tanner worked to free it from the hitch, bring it to its feet and turn it around in the right direction.

"It's so much safer with mules than horses. It's unreal," Brans said.

Once the mule was brought to its feet and reconnected with the rest of the jerk line, the procession continued on, he said.

"The mule's fine. It didn't even scratch him."

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