Lack of snow adds up to big problems

Some businesses in the city of Marquette’s downtown area, like many businesses in downtowns all across the north country, have felt an economic pinch this winter, due to a lack of snow. (Journal photo by Vickie Fee)

MARQUETTE — The lack of snow this winter has adversely impacted some businesses in downtown Marquette, a top Downtown Development Authority official said

“Some businesses have been hit harder than others, but this has been a rough winter for downtown Marquette,” said Michael Bradford, DDA Business Outreach and Promotions director.

Some of Marquette’s tourism is cultural and leisure-based, which peaks in the summer. But winter recreational tourism travels on a carpet of snow.

Without snow, like this season, the tourists don’t come and recreational pursuits like skiing and snowmobiling businesses suffer, along with retail, restaurants and lodging.

With events that DDA plans to boost traffic to downtown businesses in the summer, like the Blueberry Festival, the worst thing that can happen is rain. Even then, event-goers may choose to go inside for awhile to shop or dine. So, it’s not a complete washout for the businesses.

Without snow in the winter, it’s a different story. Tourists from south of the U.P. decide to stay home and look out the window at their own dirty and inadequate snowfall. Summer tourism kicks off in earnest in late May to early June, Bradford said.

The UP200 Sled Dog Races, held in February, had to be canceled for the second year in a row. Last year was the first time in its 35-year history the race had been due to weather.

The U.P. Sled Dog Association quickly organized the Festival of the Sled Dog so folks in the Marquette area had some activities to soothe their disappointment a bit. A slate of family-friendly activities included sledding down the big hill on Third Street near Washington Street, which was a big hit with the little ones. There was also live music, face-painting, a children’s activities tent, and mushers answering questions and allowing interaction between dogs and kids. But it’s not the same as the big race, which is a qualifying race for the Iditarod.

One thing that the DDA retooled this year was Restaurant Week, which has previously been held during Northern Michigan University’s spring break. This year, Restaurant Week was moved to the week after spring break. That way, the students were back in town after visiting their parents.

“Our feedback was that the change in dates had a positive impact for restaurants,” Bradford said.

“I think Marquette is more resilient than outlying communities. Downtown doesn’t get hit as hard as businesses located along the snowmobile trails, especially restaurants and lodging.”

Here are a few reports from downtown businesses on our lack of snow:

≤ Spice Merchants, 108 W. Washington St.: “Our business is about 50-50 locals and tourists because we’re kind of a specialty food store,” according to manager Michael Carl. “It’s definitely not as busy for us as in previous years. If we get an early spring, hopefully we’ll get more tourists earlier. We’re definitely hoping for no snow in April,” Carl said, adding that this is Spice Merchants 10th anniversary in downtown Marquette.

≤ Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery, 145 Jackson Cut Alley: “Our business is fairly steady year-round,” said Rob Rust, front-of-house manager. “We have a diverse crowd with tourists, locals and students. I think our reputation helps us. We’ve had a little drop off here and there, but we’ve been really busy in recent weeks.”

≤ Chickadees, 121 W. Washington St.: “I know a lot of businesses are struggling. We’ve had an opposite reaction, a little different,” according to manager Sabrina Kelly. “We’ve had some folks heading here for late snowmobiling without checking the weather. They get here and find there’s no snow — not what you expect in the U.P. this time of year. So they get here and have to find some other things to do. There’s been a lot going on in town. Restaurant Week and the boat show at the dome, so I think that brought business our way. We’ve been busier than usual the last couple of days. Usually summer and Christmas shopping are our busiest times,” Kelly noted.

≤ Staybridge Suites-Marquette, 855 W. Washington St.: “We don’t get snowmobile guests like some hotels in the area, so we usually have steady business all year,” said Marisa Stone, front desk agent. “We get a lot of long-term stays, and a lot of guests and families coming to (UPHS-Marquette) hospital, and we also partner with Northern, so we get parents staying with us for games, homecoming and graduations.”

≤ Downwind Sports, 514 N. Third St.: “Winter stuff, like ice climbing gear, hasn’t been selling. We’ve already shifted and put out our spring merchandise,” said salesman Joey Olson. Downwind participated in the bike show recently. “I think people are tired of the cold and looking forward to warm-weather sports. We’re hopeful it will be an early spring.”

Vickie Fee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 542. Her email address is vfee@miningjournal.net.


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