Haywood bustling with business
With the national economy showing signs of improvement, Haywood County's businesses seem to be tracking that trend.
Lynn Collins with Haywood County Tourism Development Authority says according to the most recent occupancy tax numbers from May, the county is 6 percent ahead of budget and 2 percent ahead of last year at this time.
"It seems like it's going to be a good season for us," she said. "Anything that's ahead of last year is good. At least we're not flat."
The streets of downtown Waynesville are bustling with shoppers, especially on the weekends and during special events, such as the monthly Art After Dark and the Mountain Street Dance every other Friday during the summer and at the many street festivals.
The more events there are means more foot traffic for downtown businesses such as Sunburst Market on Main Street, which opened in October.
Clay Hughes, who owns the market with his wife Katie, said foot traffic has been steadily increasing all year.
"July came and it just felt like it hit us," he said of the business.
Much like other downtown businesses, the Hughes' keep the market open late during the summer, especially when special events are held.
"In my mind, people have a little bit more money to spend, but not a whole lot, so you've got to quietly draw them in," he said.
The market not only carries Sunburst Trout Farm products such as the popular trout jerky and trout dip, but also local meats, cheeses, bread, produce, artisan products, wine, beer and much more.
Debra Bennett, a resident of Macon, Georgia, says she and her husband visit Haywood County at least three times a year and they buy every issue of the newspaper to know what's going on in the county.
The Bennetts were shopping in Waynesville Friday afternoon and stopped in Sunburst Market to browse. But they don't just stick around Waynesville — one of their favorite restaurants is Papertown Grill in Canton and they always stay at Lake Junaluska.
Even when the economy seemed to hit rock bottom, she said they continued their trips to Haywood, though they are disappointed with the high gas prices.
"We just love it here," Bennett said, adding that she hopes to one day move here.
Canton is growing too, with the opening of a new barbecue restaurant where the former Huddle House and Mountain House restaurants used to be. Dickey's Barbecue Pit, which opened up June 12, seems to be a hit.
At lunch and dinner every day, the parking lot has been overflowing with diners eager to get a taste of the down-home barbecue, beef brisket and chicken with traditional sides like jalapeno beans and macaroni and cheese.
The restaurant began in Dallas in 1941 by Travis Dickey and franchising began in 1994. With locations in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and more, Fran Noel and Dorothy Elias opened up the first western North Carolina location in South Asheville in 2012.
“We decided to open our second location in Canton because we believe the food and the brand will be a great fit,” said multi-unit franchise owner, Noel. “Canton’s primary employer is a paper mill and it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains. The people are down to earth and welcoming here making it the perfect place for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. ”
Business seems to be on the upswing in Maggie Valley as well. Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce said phone calls and requests for visitor guides are much higher than last year.
"Maggie has been very busy this season and several new businesses have opened. The hotels have said they are a little ahead of what they thought they would be this year, so I think it's on a very positive note right now," Smith said.
Last year, she printed 15,000 guides and had some left over by the end of the tourist season. She printed the same amount this year and already ran out and had to reorder by the end of June.
There's little walk-in traffic at the chamber, but Smith fields multiple phone calls a day from people planning a trip to the valley and looking for something to do. Many people call to get information about Ghost Town, which opened for the season July 4. According to the park's Facebook page, there were 2,000 visitors on opening day.
Callers also want information about the Wheels Through Time museum, which regularly draws visitors from across the nation. Visitor numbers have skyrocketed since museum curator Dale Walksler's Velocity Channel show called "What's in the Barn" began airing last year.
Other people want to know more about fishing and hiking opportunities in the area, Smith said. At a cost of only $5 for a 3-day pass, visitors can get access to many fishing holes through the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters. There are also plenty of hiking trails from easy to difficult that are mapped out in a hiking guide at the Chamber.
This year's "Red, White and Boom" event at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds brought hundreds to the valley. Sue Pendley, co-owner of Maggie Mountaineer Crafts, says business is going great.
"We had the best Fourth of July we've ever had," she said.
The clear weather and cool temperatures made for a perfect night of watching fireworks and plenty of people stopped in the local stores and restaurants. The local hotels were full, she said, because she talked to some visitors who slept in their vehicle after they couldn't find a vacant hotel room.
It's not just been a good summer so far, it's been a good year, she said. The store has been in the valley for 64 years and has seen the good and the bad when it comes to the economy.
"We've seen the government shut down the Parkway and we got lucky because God made the color [on the trees] come late last year," she said. "Every day is not going to be perfect, but we've had a very, very good year."
Just this summer she's had visitors from all over — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Washington, California and even Germany and Australia.
Having activities going on around the county such as arts and crafts shows, motorcycle rallies, barbecue festivals, and more contributes to the added business.
"The more that's going on the more it helps everybody," Smith said. "The motorcycle museum has brought in a lot of business to us and into the valley, and we appreciate Dale. Ghost Town just opened, and we are hoping Alaska [Presley] is going to do well this year."
The more there is to do, the more likely people will return to the county next year, or even move here permanently.
"If everybody moved here who says they're going to, I'll have to move away," she said with a laugh.