After a slow start to the summer tourist season Cody business activity showed a strong rebound thereafter, continuing on into early fall.
City of Cody and Park County sales tax revenue, collected separately, show that after abnormally cold weather in May and June, sales picked up by mid-summer and stayed strong through the end of September.
“September was one of our busiest months,” said Susan Cory, owner of Peter’s Cafe.
Tax revenue generated was higher in September than July for both the city and county.
Melissa Allen, co-owner of Sunlight Sports, said business has remained steady at her sporting goods store in fall, but this did not make up for the fact the summer as a whole “was a little slower than last year, but last year was one of the best years we’ve ever had,” she said.
An unseasonably rainy and chilly start to the summer undoubtedly was a factor for many local business owners.
“Our summer went really good but May was down and awful,” said Susie Walfall, general manager at the Sunset Inn.
Levi Meyer, public relations and marketing manager for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, shared his sentiment.
“It was kind of a slow June because it was so rainy,” Meyer said. “But we had a lot of visitors thanks to events like the reopening of the firearms museum and we were very busy the day of Kanye (West’s) Sunday Service.”
Teresa Muhic, proprietor of Legends Bookstore, said she sees a correlation on a daily basis between weather and sales.
“We see the impact even during the summer,” she said. “People are less likely to walk around if the weather’s bad.”
The Yellowstone effect
Overall traffic was down to 161,789 visitors at the Yellowstone National Park east gate May through September, the lowest attendance since 2014. In comparison to 2018, traffic was down 7.2 percent.
“It was a soft summer- going off the park visits and lodging tax numbers,” said Claudia Wade, executive director of Park County Travel Council. “The weather didn’t do us any favors.”
The northeast gate however posted a record year, with 104,162 people passing through its turnstiles. Single-month records were also shattered there in July and August. This was inconsistent with YNP as a whole, which posted 1.4 percent less visits since 2018.
Wade suspects that road construction near Fishing Bridge and the late re-opening of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel redirected some traffic to the northeast gate.
“Navigating sites may have scared people away,” Wade said.
Indian summer travelers
It’s too early to tell at this point but this year’s October could prove to be a boon when compared to last in Cody, as the east gate closed about three weeks earlier than normal on Oct. 15, 2018, due to road construction. This year it will have a more typical closure date of Nov. 4.
“The east gate sometimes has a lot of effect, but one snowstorm can mess you up,” said Kenny Lee, owner of Cowtown Candy and president of the Cody Chamber of Commerce.
Somewhat mild autumn temperatures have also had a positive effect on at least a few businesses.
“We’ve seen a lot of regional travelers in the late fall,” Wade said.
Cory said she will make an assessment at the end of the month as to whether she will reduce her hours, but to date sales have stayed consistent, with hunters and senior travelers still filling her booths.
Walfall said her hotel will be staying open through the end of the week, about two weeks later than usual. She said the relatively warm fall has “been a huge factor” in keeping her business from falling off in the later part of the busy season.
Another testament to the late autumn tourist push could be seen at The Wyoming Buffalo Company on Sheridan Avenue one recent weekday afternoon, as the shop was filled with customers. Owner Lisa del Valle, who has been involved with the store for 25 years, said this has not been a rare occurrence this fall.
“This is very busy for October,” del Valle said. “The weather is a big part in that.”
In contrast, Meyer said traffic has noticeably slowed in recent weeks at the museum.
“Things are slowing down, and they normally do this time of year,” he said.
When compared to 2018, city and county sales tax revenue was up by a combined 17.4 percent for the summer months, but county lodging tax receipts were down 4.7 percent. One reason behind these conflicting numbers might be that fewer people were visiting Cody, but those who did come spent more money, Wade said.
“And it shows overall consumer confidence,” she added.
One business owner was able to turn a successful summer into a good career send-off.
With his recent announcement that he and his family will be moving to Oregon, Cody Coffee Company owner Jesse Renfors has had many of his loyal customers worried that the new hotspot would go out of business. But Renfors said due to the success his new business had during a record summer, he didn’t have much difficulty finding a new potential buyer, who he said plans to continue the operation similarly moving forward.
“They’re looking to keep everything exactly the same,” Renfors said. “We did all the heavy lifting getting it started, now they’re just taking over the ship.”