CONWAY — If traffic is any indicator, it’s reasonable to say that Mount Washington Valley businesses enjoyed one of the most successful Columbus Day weekends in a number of years. Businesses reporting to a Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce informal survey shared confidence in the success of the three-day October holiday this year.
Many businesses commented on the vibrant color over Columbus Day weekend, a feature of the White Mountains that attracts visitors this time of year from throughout the world. Traffic indicated that the leaf-peepers and Columbus Day were in Mt Washington Valley enjoying the brilliant color, outdoor adventure and three-day getaways.
“We’re hearing both chamber members and visitors comment on the brilliance and color of the fall foliage this year,” commented Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The fact that we haven’t had many high wind events or hard rainstorms to knock leaves from the trees adds to the color this year," she said.
"The dense fall foliage on trees offers an intensity of vivid fall color that adds to its radiance this year,” said Crawford.
Indeed, Mother Nature’s fall artistry showed its true colors once again throughout the White Mountains over Columbus Day weekend. If Mount Washington Valley can escape the harsh winds and rainstorms, leaves could stay on the trees, and the chamber predicts an extended fall foliage/leaf-peeping season.
While last Saturday’s drizzle impacted some outdoor activities, the chamber heard from Becca Deschenes at Cranmore Mountain Resort that the holiday weekend was a huge success.
“We had a very strong holiday weekend for the end of summer operations and finished about 40 percent up over last year,” said Deschenes. In addition, “Ghoullog also had a very strong weekend, with haunts Friday-Sunday night beating last year’s visits by 50 percent," she said.
"Saturday was one of our second busiest nights since we started the Ghoullog,” Deschenes added.
The Ghoullog will operate Friday and Saturday nights through Nov. 2 and is also open Thursday, Oct. 31 for locals night. Already looking ahead to ski season, Deschenes told the chamber, “With Mother Nature’s cooperation, we’ll be ready to start making snow as early as Nov. 1.”
Leaf-peepers also took time out to enjoy some fantasy at Story Land. According to Story Land Director of Marketing Lauren Hawkins: “Columbus Day Weekend was strong, comparable to 2018. Weather impacted Saturday visitation, but both Sunday and Monday saw great attendance numbers."
Visitors explored and stayed in the Mount Washington Valley for the Columbus Day three-day weekend, business owners said. Kyla Brustin, owner of Pinkham Vacation Rentals, said the business was up 15 percent over last year for the long weekend. “Based on how the summer went, I would have expected to be up more, but I think that since the Fryeburg Fair and Columbus didn't overlap this year, the business was more spread out,” Brustin said. She went on to say that it’s been a fabulous summer and fall for Pinkham Vacation Rentals.
Jessica Zarenko, owner/innkeeper of the Cabernet Inn in Intervale told the chamber that bookings were even this year with last year for the Columbus Day weekend. She said that their fall guest demographic is changing with less Canadian and international travelers. In addition, Zarenko concurred with the observation about this year’s exquisite fall color in the valley, saying: “The foliage this year has been absolutely fantastic and still going strong. As far as the colors, probably the best we've seen in 16 years!”
Jillian Moulton, marketing director at Table & Tonic, also in Intervale, weighed in on the chamber’s survey saying: “Peak foliage and optimal weather conditions have extended our harvest season from Mountain Flower Farm. As we complete our second fall foliage season in business, the restaurant is seeing repeat customers looking for a fresh, organic farm-to-table dining experience.” Moulton went on to explain that the fall season sales are up over last year, their first year in business.
While fall colors were a boon for leaf peepers, one retailer explained that the distraction was actually a bust for him. Timothy Psaledakis, owner of Jewelry by Tim and Friends in North Conway Village, told the chamber: "What an odd combination this holiday weekend. My numbers are down compared to last year. My feedback from regular customers was, 'We spend the days leaf peeping and the rest of our time in traffic or waiting to eat at a restaurant. We didn’t have time for shopping like we usually do.'" Still, North Conway Village was packed with visitors throughout the three-day weekend.
Yet, if cars were any indicator, the outlets at Settlers Green were packed with shoppers and lines at the registers. According to Laura Lemieux, director of marketing & events at Settlers Green and Settlers Crossing, “Saturday came in as the strongest day of the four-day weekend for most stores and restaurants, overall averaging a 15-to-20-percent increase in sales and traffic over last year throughout the weekend.”
“The restaurants were also packed," she added. Ben Williams, owner of Black Cap Grille said he had "a huge weekend there, much to the credit of the new REI Co-Op store."
Overall, every one of the respondents to the chamber’s survey replied that business has been strong throughout the fall season to date. For the first time in many years, the Fryeburg Fair has not coincided with Columbus Day weekend, helping to spread out the fall crowds over a longer period of time. Kyla Brustin commented on this saying, “Surprisingly, we are almost fully booked for next weekend, which is not typical for the weekend after Columbus Day. So, I think that the foliage season is lasting longer this year than it has in the past.”
Zarenko concurred, telling the chamber, “I think with Columbus Day being a little later this year, it's extending the season.”
To learn more about visiting the Mount Washington Valley, go to mtwashingtonvalley.org or call (800) 367-3364 (800-DO-SEE-NH).