Slowly getting better

Tourist destinations experience better year

Glenn Leighton shows a rug to Vicki Miller at Notah Dineh Friday. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Glenn Leighton shows a rug to Vicki Miller at Notah Dineh Friday.

By Rachel Segura

Journal Staff Writer

It is no secret that Cortez has seen a dramatic change in tourism over the last few years. Businesses, including motels and restaurants, have been going on optimism as they watched their visitor numbers dip, only to see them increase slowly. The recession is an obvious factor; with gas prices sky high and challenging unemployment numbers, people are not traveling and spending as much as before.

These are the facts of life and the facts of a poor economy.

Still, many Cortez businesses that rely on tourism dollars for success are not complaining. They are, however, changing up their game.

Main Street Brewery has always been a seasonal restaurant. The summertime is always the busiest time of the year and it relies mainly on the tourist season to stay afloat. But local clientele is also an important factor to success.

Owner Janet Woods took over the brewery two years ago and immediately began making changes.

“This is our second year in a row that our sales have been up,” she said. “We seek out locals. We want our local people to have a good time so we’ve implemented a few new things like the soup and salad bar. And this year we were open for Thanksgiving.”

Woods says that tourists account for a huge percentage of her business. The restaurant currently has five contracts with tour bus lines, and they cater to four or five tour groups a week during the peak season. These groups will have 25 to 75 people who come from around the country and even Canada. The restaurant stays busy from May to December but then hits the slow-down period in January and February.

This is when Woods focuses on the locals.

“We don’t want them to get bored so we continue to change and offer new services,” Woods said.

As Woods is seeing an increase in business, locations like American Garden Inn and La Mesa RV Park are continuing at a flat pace.

La Mesa has seen a small dip in campers recently. Park manager Shiree Calvillo-Cox says the majority of her clients have been monthly tenants who come to Southwest Colorado for work. They camp in her park for four to six weeks while they work a job, then return home. With employment opportunities scarce in the Four Corners, Calvillo-Cox was hurting this year.

“In April, we get monthly snowbirds from Arizona who are headed home and the same in October,” she said. “But the majority of our clients are retired couples and people who come to the area for work.”

Part of the park’s business also comes from repeat customers who travel through Cortez on a specific route to visit family or go back home. Although her summer business was OK, she said it could have been better.

The American Garden Inn on east Main Street, formerly Budget Host Inn, recently changed its name in the spring of this year, hoping to bring in new clientele. Owner Elizabeth Berger has seen a dramatic decrease in bookings over the past two years. She hopes to see an influx of tourists when the new visitors center for Mesa Verde National Park opens next month, with an even larger increase next spring after the grand opening.

Tourist destinations, however, are not the problem. There are plenty of monuments, trails, national parks, rivers and reservoirs to satisfy all outdoor interests. There are also many archaeological sites with visitor centers, museums and trading posts.

Notah Dineh Trading Post and Museum has been operating in Cortez for 52 years. It was passed down to Gregg Leighton from his father in the 1980s. Business has been good to Leighton, especially during economically hard times.

“Many of my customers are retired, with no kids, and they pull their retirement from stocks because it’s sitting there not making any interest,” Leighton explained. “So they come here looking for great pieces of Navajo art or jewelry.”

With an increase in the cost of silver, Leighton said his prices rarely decrease; the Cortez tourist spot actually sees an inflation in jewelry pieces, but sales generally stay up. He did experience a decline in visitors four years ago, but those numbers have risen steadily every year since.

Something he has noticed about his clientele is that young Navajo men and women are coming into the trading post to purchase jewelry, art, rugs and other items that their families once had. Maybe they traded those items at one time to be able to have food or pay a bill. Now the younger generations are coming forward to find similar heirlooms.

As the economy slowly starts to return to comfortable standards, people continue to be more unsure about buying, traveling and spending unnecessarily. But as our tourist spots and destinations seek ways to keep local spenders happy, they may fare well if tourism dollars continue to dwindle.

Demitri and Mistery Miller shop for jewelry at Notah Dineh Friday. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Demitri and Mistery Miller shop for jewelry at Notah Dineh Friday.