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County businesses face questions about tourism

Staff writer

Marion County businesses and officials alike are perplexed by the conundrum of appropriate weekend hours.

Businesses say they do not have enough customers to keep their shops open on weekends.

Officials like County Economic Development director Teresa Huffman have attempted to convince businesses to open on weekends to attract customers. She said some visitors are avoiding Marion County downtowns on weekends because they believe most businesses are closed.

It’s a classic “chicken or the egg” situation, but it’s only one part of the larger question of how to bring more tourists to Marion County.

Huffman has worked with Amber Peterson owner of Tampa Cafe. Part of their discussions was an attempt to encourage Peterson to open Tampa Café for more hours on weekends. Thus far, Peterson said such a change would not be economically feasible.

While Tampa Café is open for two hours on Sunday, with one Saturday a month open for a buffet night, Flint Hills Gold is only open for three hours on Saturday.

“There would have to be a quantity of people before I would open on Sunday,” Flint Hills Gold owner Bev Schor said of other businesses opening on the weekend.

There is an inconsistency of businesses’ working hours to accommodate travelers. With customers at Northshore Bed and Breakfast, at Marion County Lake, looking to shop in Marion and Hillsboro, owner Lynn Unruh has fielded several complaints that businesses were not open on the weekend.

“If they’re not going to open on Saturday afternoon, it hurts my business,” Unruh said.

Despite this essential disagreement, all the business owners could agree that Marion County is a viable tourist destination.

Peterson cited Marion Reservoir and Marion County Lake as draws for the county.

The outdoors are also a draw for Northshore customers, Unruh said. She said the bed breakfast is usually busy during any hunting season.

For Schor, the draws are Marion’s downtown with the addition of Gallery 101 and two additional antiques stores.

“Everybody loves Marion,” Schor said “just its looks, its charm.”

Property manager Francis Walls of Hillsboro’s Country Haven Inn believes the historic sites in the county — Santa Fe and Chisholm Trail markers, museums, and historic houses — can bring in travelers.

Marion County events like arts and crafts events and Old Settler’s Day this month also have a tendency to provide travelers to fill rooms at the Inn.

But, Walls said the down times for her lodging business are dismal. During events, she cannot accommodate all of the requests for rooms. She expected this past Saturday, the first week for Tabor football, she would have to direct visitors to other inns.

Especially during the winter, Walls said she can barely fill a room.

“We’re a sporadic business,” Walls said.

There is also the inconsistency among Marion County towns. Peterson said she receives very few outsiders at her Café. Even with a Santa Fe Trail Festival and the Tampa Hog Roast, the influx of new patrons was minimal.

“The Tampa community really supports the café and events,” Peterson said. “I think with the lakes, people know where they are going to be and stay there.”

Peterson has had to involuntarily turn away business because of the roads around Tampa. She said an antique car club from Salina wanted to visit Tampa and eat at her restaurant. But, the club’s president observed the roads around Tampa and decided against the trip.

“They didn’t want to get a chipped windshield,” Peterson said.

Huffman has worked with each business to attract traveling customers and listened to complaints. The business owners again reached an agreement, saying Huffman was working hard to bring in visitors.

“Everything going on, Teresa is doing,” Schor said.

Huffman has worked closely with Schor on advertising opportunities. Schor has recently advertised in Kansas Magazine. She is one of several Marion businesses to advertise on movie screens in Newton before previews.

“I’ve had some real good comments,” Schor said of the movie ad.

In both cases, the county contributed half of the payment for the ad. Huffman also helped Northshore advertise in regional publications.

“That’s such a good deal,” Schor said. “If you go to her with ideas, she’s really helpful.”

Schor said Huffman, her sister Jan Davis, and Jeanice Thomas have collaborated to create Marion events. Two art and music strolls came from this collaboration, the second of which will be Oct. 2.

According to Huffman, one solution for tourist problems is to increase business collaboration. With more businesses working together on events, more people could be attracted to respective towns to visit businesses; an antique tour or art tour are two examples. In theory, all of the businesses would prosper with this setup.

Schor said she remembers when tour buses would stop in Marion and it is one of Huffman’s goals to try to bring tours and other business opportunities to Marion County.

However, Walls, Schor, and Unruh were unwilling to try to organize tour opportunities themselves.

One of Huffman’s goals is to set up kiosks in every town in the county with maps and brochures for Marion businesses. Tampa is the first community that has agreed to a kiosk.

Sometimes Huffman said her suggestions to businesses, whether to change hours or collaborate, are not heeded. She has brought in a tourism expert to speak recently to convey these messages in a different manner.

“Sometimes it helps to hear it from an expert,” Huffman said.

Huffman sees the same draws to Marion County as local business owners. She said the outdoor and historic sites in the county should be appealing to travelers.

Walls said that 99 percent of her customers come back after an initial visit.

For Huffman, it is about trying to attract people to Marion County once so they can see what she sees.

“It’s marketing Marion County, so people know what’s here,” she said.

Last modified Sept. 8, 2011

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