Summer results mixed

By Gray Hughes

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The winter season is fast approaching, and with that, businesses are reflecting on the summer season that was.

How the summer tourist season went is going to depend on who’s asked, said Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce.

“Some will say they had a great year,” she said. “While others saw their numbers down.”

The season got off to a late start due to wetter weather, she said, and some hope they can make up for a slower summer by having a strong fall season.

Events held during the summer, such as the Hill City Wine, Brew and BBQ event, can draw thousands of visitors into town, she said.

Each of the festivals in town have their own niche, Wetovick-Bily added.

“It’s a draw for visitors who are already here,” she said.

The chamber is hoping for strong showings at Girlfriends’ Weekend, which will be held from Nov. 9-11, and the Old Tyme Christmas celebration, held this year on Nov. 23.

For Hill City, the summer tourist season lasts from May to October with efforts to extend the season before and after those dates, known as the shoulder season.

Girlfriends’s Weekend and Old Tyme Christmas, each of which draw thousands of people into town, are two examples of how the chamber is expanding the season into the shoulder season, Wetovick-Bily said.

Vic Alexander, who operates the Super 8 in Hill City along with convenience stores, laundromats, car wash, vacation homes and Main Street properties as part of Vic and Sherryl Alexander Enterprises, said the season at the Super 8 was average.

“I haven’t even looked at it or studied it, but it was just another season,” he said. “It wasn’t the worst one, it wasn’t the best one.”

With that in mind, he said, it was not bad enough to close the doors.

Alexander said he does not look at a season as a whole; rather, he is focused on the big picture of the whole year.

“Whenever somebody asks me how the season was, I have no idea,” he said. “But I can tell you business was good enough to stay in business, and I won’t quit. From a hotel standpoint, it was soft. There weren’t as many stayers as I would like, but it is what it is.”

However, his other properties in town did well this summer, he said, so he was not concerned.

The Super 8 wasn’t the only businesses in town to report a mixed season.

At Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Blaine Kortemeyer, assistant chief of interpretation, said visitation was down 5 percent from the previous year.

“There could be any number of factors,” he said. “Spring was cold and wet. That can contribute to the overall numbers.”

Previous years have seen record highs set in attendance, and beating that year after year is hard to do.

For businesses, a 5 percent decrease may seem like a lot, he said, but with an annual visitation of over three million people, it’s not disastrous.

Other businesses, though, reported a solid summer.

The 1880 Train had a great summer, said Holli Edwards with the 1880 Train.

“The spring got off to a cooler start,” she said. “But our summer months were right on track with previous years.”

The 1880 Train saw many family reunions and as well as generations of families traveling with each other, she said.

They are preparing for the Holiday Express, she said, and ticket sales are off to a good start with that.

When businesses have a slow season, Wetovick-Bily said, they focus on the business’s particular industry and competition.

“We consider all types of factors, and we want to look at where they’re marketing and how they attract customers,” she said. “I work to broaden the reach and tactics. (The chamber of commerce) is an organization totally dedicated to marketing and promoting our members. We want to drive people to the Hill City area.”

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