Visitors flocked to the Mother Lode over Labor Day weekend, despite high gas prices and the sluggish economy.
Several businesses saw increased sales at least one day over the weekend, many hotels were booked solid and numerous people attended events around the area.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to up to this point … thought that it was very busy, and there appeared to be a lot of folks up here from the valley particularly and the Bay Area,” said Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce President George Segarini.
Segarini said Tuolumne County usually sees an influx of visitors over Labor Day weekend because it’s the last travel opportunity of the summer for families in other counties with kids who start school after the holiday.
He said most Tuolumne County hotels were full over the weekend.
Lisa Boulton, executive director of the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau, said most of the hotels in Murphys and along the Highway 4 corridor were also filled.
Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nanci Sikes said traffic heading west from the Sierra foothills was very heavy late Monday afternoon.
“That means they stayed through the long holiday weekend, and that bodes well for our visitation,” she said.
Sikes said visitors bureau offices in Sonora and Chinese Camp were both busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but that Monday was slower since visitors were heading home.
She said Tuolumne County seemed slightly less busy this Labor Day weekend compared to last year, but that last summer was phenomenal for tourism.
Sikes asked visitors if gas prices hurt their travel plans and most told her that they would not cancel small trips unless rates increased significantly.
However, the visitors bureau had no way of tracking how many people considered traveling to Tuolumne and decided not to because of fuel costs.
Boulton said the high gas prices probably attracted more visitors from the Central Valley who live close to the area.
Segarini said great weekend weather also probably helped to keep more locals closer to home over the holiday weekend. Highs in the Mother Lode averaged in the low 90s.
He said restaurants were packed Saturday along Washington Street.
Downtown Shoes manager Rick Bixler said Saturday was one of the store’s most successful Saturdays since it opened 18 months ago and that Friday was also prosperous, but that Sunday and Monday were disappointingly slow.
Bixler said the store probably had higher sales on Saturday because it was the first day of the month, and many people had probably just received Social Security checks and paychecks.
The Candy Vault also saw a lot of traffic on Saturday, but new owner Brandi Ogle said the store had just as many sales on Sunday even though it was open for about half the time.
Ogle said it was the busiest weekend she’s seen in the store since she and her husband took it over on Aug. 1. She observed that many of the store’s visitors were people visiting Yosemite National Park.
Sporting goods stores also reported a lucrative weekend.
Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods in Arnold experienced a bustling Saturday and a strong weekend overall.
“It was excellent,” store owner Bill Reynolds said. “Probably more people than we’ve seen in a long time up here.”
He said many people purchased fishing, camping and hiking gear on their way up to recreation areas including Lake Alpine, Union and Utica reservoirs and Sourgrass Lake.
Melanie Lewis, owner of Glory Hole Sports in Angels Camp, said she was surprised by how many visitors the store had because Labor Day weekends have slowed down since schools began opening earlier.
“Everybody’s tied up with getting back into the groove,” she said.
She suspected that people were more inclined to take full advantage of the long weekend because the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year.
Lewis added that the store ran out of ice. She said the store’s deli was also a hit, and many visitors purchased inner tubes for their trips to New Melones Lake.
The Sierra Nevada Adventure Co., which has stores in Arnold and Sonora, ran out of rental boats on Saturday and Sunday, said manager Clint Smithman.
Tasting rooms in Murphys saw a flood of wine connoisseurs over the weekend.
Jessica Duran, a Val du Vino Winery employee, said sales were comparable to Labor Day weekend last year and up from normal weekends.
The tasting room stayed open more than an hour later than its usual hours on Saturday and Sunday to accommodate all of the visitors, she said.
“The entire town of Murphys seemed to be doing well this entire weekend,” she said.
Liz Millier, co-owner of Milliaire Winery, said business at their tasting room was also comparable to last year and higher than normal weekends. She agreed that Murphys seemed to be bustling all weekend.
“There was a real nice vibe,” she said. “I mean it’s busy but it’s relaxed at the same time.”
Tony Bennett and Jackie Evancho took the stage at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys on Saturday, which was one of the many events that occurred in the Mother Lode.
Other happenings included the Strawberry Music Festival — a four-day, sold-out event at Camp Mather — a free concert in Copperopolis Town Square, the Valley Springs Powwow, an arts and crafts fair in Arnold, the Twain Harte Film Festival and an exotic bird and animal expo in Sonora.
Sikes said visitors also flocked to the high country, which is popular this time of year, for fishing, boating, hiking, camping and water sports.
“I think it’s been an overall pretty good summer … we look forward now to the holidays,” Segarini said.