Merchants, towns hoping for good season after dismal summer

By Curtis Riggs | September 17, 2008

Promoting “Shop, Eat Local”
CAVE CREEK/CAREFREE – Merchants, local chambers of commerce and civic officials remain upbeat about the possibility of having a prosperous tourist season. Many say the summer was the toughest one on businesses in years.

Evidence of tough economic times locally is the number of dark windows in businesses throughout town. The Shoppes at the Creek retail center in Cave Creek has had a number of vacancies for over a year.

Less than a handful of businesses have moved into the spacious Stagecoach Village since it’s opening last year.

For Sale signs have replaced the typical special sale signs on businesses in both Desert Foothills communities.

spur cross stationThose in the know say there is 250,000 square feet of empty retail space between Spur Cross Road and the Carefree eastern boundary.

Despite the economic gloominess, which has plagued the area since last tourist season, officials in both towns are delighted to report sales-tax revenue is up from this time last year.

Local chambers of commerce officials remain cautiously optimistic about the chance a good year for local businesses. The high cost of gasoline and air travel can actually work in favor of both towns because it is less expensive to get here than many other vacation destinations in the West.

Carefree has already started its “Shop Local” campaign with downtown improvements designed to entice Carefree residents to enjoy their own community.

Cave Creek Town Councilwoman Kim Brennan and Cave Creek Merchants Chamber of Commerce President Marc Peagler wants to see a “Shop Cave Creek” campaign get off the ground. Cave Creek Town Manager Usama Abujbarah would like to see CCMCC officials and town staff work together on a sustained “Shop and Eat Local” campaign.

“Merchants are suffering quite a bit and because of all the new construction there is so much retail space available,” Brennan said. “It’s not like businesses are moving. They are closing up shop.”

Brennan adds, “People who live here have to love us the most.” A shop local theme could boost business this season.

Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia points out high-end restaurants in town such as Binkley’s, Cartwright’s and Tonto Bar & Grill are doing well because there are plenty of residents and visitors with a great deal of disposable income.

“Tonto’s numbers are going against the grain,” he said.

Peagler is doing “everything possible to bring more people to Cave Creek.”

Despite the rough summer he is “upbeat and confident” the area will have a good tourist season.

“What affects us are the resorts in the Northeast Valley,” he said. “When they are full Cave Creek does well.”

According to Peagler, the CCMCC will be doing more concierge tours for the liaisons to guests at Valley resorts this fall as a way of letting them know what Cave Creek has to offer.

Carefree/Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ian Ellison said tourism has changed with people now taking stay-at-home vacations.

“We need to be strong with people in Tatum Ranch, Tatum Highlands and all the people living between the Carefree Highway and the 101,” he said.

Carefree Town Councilman Bob Gemmill, who serves as marketing liaison to the council, has high hopes the $320,000 the town put into downtown improvements this fall will encourage Carefree residents to begin exploring their own community.

“With all the projects (new lighting, signage and turn-lanes) we are trying to get people in Carefree to come enjoy their own town,” he said.

Faith Weinberg, who owns the Big Bronco eclectic Western and furniture stores in Cave Creek, called the summer business season the “toughest she has seen” despite her hopes for a prosperous tourist season.

“People are not as comfortable spending with the real-estate market being so soft. They are not buying a lot of furniture because no one is buying new homes,” she said. “We won’t get the volume until someone starts working on a project.”

Indian Village owner Bart Krasson said his sales are off 20 percent because of problems in the construction and real-estate mortgage industries. He was also impacted by the town’s now defunct solicitation ordinance, which drove away day laborers that enjoyed his Mexican food.

Harold’s Managing Partner Bill Vale said Harold’s was not so negatively impacted this summer because it has a “great local following.” Harold’s gets a huge boost during the tourist season from Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Football fans.

Photo caption: The Spur Cross Station retail building has been vacant for nearly two years.

Photo by Curtis Riggs