Natchitoches, Louisiana is a historic town that relies a lot on tourist trade. Blooming on the Bricks is a festival that attracts tourists. But this year storms interrupted planned events, which shows how vulnerable towns can be in this recession.
Tornadoes can blow an 18-year-old wheeler off the road when it drops to the ground. Because they arrive with little time to prepare and create havoc, people need to be especially cautious. Warnings of tornadoes came the hours before and early during Blooming on the Bricks signaling both the good and bad that comes with spring in this small, lovely town of the South.
People stayed in homes while scattered winds blew around. The storm blew leaves in all directions and paper bits into the air. The lightning bolts came fast, as the sirens blared, as speakers announced warnings of tornadoes, that didn't come but threatened to as people scrambled for cover. A tornado comes fast, so most folks know to stay inside, although three days of warnings saw people taking chances on the streets on late Friday and early Saturday morning, even though the danger had not really completely disappeared. All this happened before and after the festival this year. The storm problems continued through Tuesday, again diminishing foot traffic in the downtown area, where fewer visitors have been going compared to last year at this same time.
In places where tornadoes can hit, if you aren't in a storm shelter when the last siren goes off, you have waited too long. Several blasts can come in a row. We are now in the tornado season with hurricane season following by July. Winter blues make people long for spring, but that's when tornado watches and warnings come in March, April and May. Every year spring is welcomed with the storm potential, and this year the warnings came during the time of preparation and early moments of a yearly festival in Natchitoches, Louisiana called Blooming on the Bricks. This put people in a state of anxiety as they prepared for activities they weren't sure would really happen. I surely was anxious myself since I operate a small bed and breakfast and edit a small newspaper that is printed every two weeks. Like other business people I saw fewer people in town than ordinarily during the festival and am concerned about the effect on the total economy of the area since tourism is so vital to businesses here, especially in the Historic District.
Blooming on the Bricks is one of the top tourist holidays in Natchitoches, Louisiana and special events, when people come out of their houses during the winter and mingle among the flowers of spring. It's a time when the swells and not-so-swells waltz around, pick out plants, listen to sidewalk musicians and find a piece of art or two. But this year the temperature in the mid 40's - mid 50's made that prohibitive until late afternoon, when the limited number of brave folk increased in numbers, too little to do much good to an economy that needs the boost this season. Jim Metcalf, owner of Chez des Amis Bed and Breakfast in Natchitoches, observed the downturn in business this season as well, saying "we haven't had the business this year we usually do and have wondered why and been concerned." Bad weather can affect what the town depends on to bring visitors, and bed and breakfasts rely on visitors to make money.
The gallery on the river had a few lookers but no takers, while those walking the town area only stopped but didn't seem to shop, as the weather was too cold to linger. Still the blooms were out despite the weather, as the storms began to move past the town to other unlucky areas. Weather problems can affect tourism, as New Orleans discovered, and as Hawaii has during hurricane season. While weather predictions declare this season to be particularly serious for storms, one wonders how weather problems will add to the problems of the economy, especially in small towns that rely on tourist dollars.
Those who advise small towns on marketing efforts cite the value of making their areas unique. Natchitoches has certainly done that by having the town itself labeled a Distinctive Destination and its Historic District cited in numbers of magazines as well. So weather problems may have an effect on a short-term basis, but businesses hope that the uniqueness of the town will prove helpful
Natchitoches, Louisiana, with its chill yesterday, and storm warnings in the early morning, tried valiantly to put on a cloak of spring while enough flowers were out to make people think good weather might be in the offing. In the meantime, the Blooming of the Bricks didn't bring the fine crowds shopkeepers hoped to help the economy in downtown Natchitoches. The relatively poor turnout compared with other years shows how vulnerable local towns can be that rely on tourism dollars. So Natchitoches now waits for jazz festivals that begin in April to make up for the business that might have been lost had the weather brought the anticipated spring and crowds businesses had wanted. It also hopes for good weather and that the economic climate won't be further depressed.