Leavenworth hands out $50 vouchers, tells tourists 'we're open'

It may sound like funny math, but in Leavenworth, thousands could mean millions.

Annual tourism revenue - which typically totals in the millions - is so important to the small Chelan County city that last Friday the mayor stood on the side of Highway 2 - the major artery into town - and handed out about $2,000 dollars' worth of vouchers to tourists driving by. Each was good for $50 to spend downtown.

"Unfortunately, people got the message that Highway 2 was closed and presumed they couldn't get to us," said Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar, "when, in fact, we've been open the whole time and happy to serve."

The highway was shut down for weeks as firefighters battled the Chiwaukum Complex Fire several miles west of Leavenworth. More than 800 homes were initially evacuated and the blaze sent a light dusting of ash throughout the town.

Through it all, businesses remained open. There were other ways to get to Leavenworth, noted Farivar, but many tourists didn't get the message.

"It's almost like somebody closed the door. It's an immediate impact," noted Karl Ruether, co-owner of the Best Western Icicle Resort. "When one of the highways is closed, we feel it dramatically."

The Chelan County town of about 2,000 year-round residents relies heavily on summer tourists, said Jessica Robinson with the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. Some businesses reported up to a 50 percent drop in sales and revenue in July as tourists and visitors canceled outdoor adventures or hotel stays, officials said.

"Even though we haven't had fires in Leavenworth, the surrounding areas have definitely suffered a lot," said Pam Brulotte, who owns Icicle Brewing and the Munchen House restaurant downtown. "I think if you ask any business owner, our numbers are down, because Highway 2 was closed."

The city brought in nearly half a million dollars in sales and hotel taxes in July and August of last year, two of their busiest months, officials said. They won't have totals on the 2014 losses for another few months.

Leavenworth recently placed additional advertisements on Seattle-area television and radio stations to remind tourists the town is open - and eager to entertain.

"Yes, we are open, and we would love people here to come," added Ruether. "We're here. We'd be glad to have you."

"This is our season where we shine. Hopefully people realize that we are open for business," noted Brulotte. "There's something going on every weekend. We are ready to welcome them with open arms."