Eureka Springs sales tax receipts on sales in June – the latest month figures are available – were 14.67 percent higher than for June 2017, which may portend a good summer for businesses in Eureka Springs.
“That’s probably one of the highest percentage increases we have had in a long time,” Mayor Butch Berry said. “Year-to-date, we are 5.63 percent up over this past year. Each year since 2010 we have been showing an increase in sales tax.”
Sales taxes in June were $241,271, an increase of about $31,000 over 2017. It was the best month this year, with January being the worst when collections were down 13.35 percent. January is traditionally the weakest month for sales. Collections this year were down $13,514 from January 2017.
Sales taxes come from retail, restaurant and lodging sales. While it is difficult to determine which sector might be most responsible for the increases, collections from the City Advertising and Promotion Commission, which taxes restaurant and lodging establishments, show an increase of 4.2 percent from last December to $981,048.
Bed and breakfast collections are down about eight percent from the time period the previous year. Cabin/cottages/suite collections, on the other hand, are up 18.5 percent for that time period, an increase of $16,506 from $89,031 in December 2016 through July in 2017 compared to $105,537 so far this year from December 2017 through July.
New downhill bike trails at Lake Leatherwood may have been a factor in some of the increased occupancy.
Lori Blood, co-owner of the Green Tree Lodge & RV Park, said this is the best year they’ve seen since operating Green Tree. A lot of the increased business can be tied to the influx of mountain bikers due to the new downhill biking trails.
“We’re seeing two areas of increases in where reservations are coming from,” she said. “We’re getting more of the fat tire bikers and we’re seeing a big increase in our campground occupancy because we signed up for a program with the Chamber of Commerce called Jackrabbit. I can say this August was surprisingly very good for us compared to previous years.”
Tim Freeman, owner of Wanderoo Lodge, also reported a good summer.
“For us, we try to include an outdoor and adventure mindset in everything we do,” Freeman said. “We attract lots of mountain bikers and kayakers. They pack the house every weekend. Our on-site partners at Float Eureka have stayed busy renting boats and we’ve stayed busy running shuttles to the river. We see that as the future and we cater to those guests. It’s part of our business model and it’s an important part of the future of Eureka Springs, in my opinion. I honestly wish more hotels would do what we’re doing because I want the town to become known for outdoor activities.”
Freeman said they were sold out most weekends and July in particular was good for them even in mid-week. He also recently opened The Gravel Bar in a renovated historic house at the Wanderoo.
“We’re one of the only hotels on the highway with a bar – actually, the only one besides the Bavarian Inn, I believe – so that naturally helps us out and the guests love it,” he said. “What’s really been interesting to me, though, is that most of our business at the Gravel Bar has been local. Our side of town needed a great, local watering hole and a place to grab a panini, and they got it.”
Annie An, owner of Annie’s in New Orleans, said while she was disappointed in August sales, things have picked up in September. May and October are usually her busiest months.
“I’ve been in business here for eighteen years, so I have a lot of repeat customers,” An said. “That really helps. I just have a good time with customers. Fun is what it’s all about. I enjoy the people. They think I’m funny and I’m bossy. If something doesn’t look good, I tell them, ‘Take it off.’ But they all come back.”
One of the most upscale art shops downtown is Zarks Galley. Christopher Plowman, a sales clerk at Zarks, said it is rare to get a customer in off the street who has an idea of what they are walking into.
“They look at one expensive sculpture and get scared and run away sometimes,” Plowman said. “It’s kind of touch and go. Most of our sales are through our website and are people who have been customers for fifteen years.”
Sometimes the key to successful retail is to have something exclusive. Jayme Brandt, owner of Tee Rex, said they are enjoying a surge directly related to illustration art prints that are exclusive only to this store and their best-selling items. Sales in this category have helped increase revenue by more than 34 percent for the year.
Jim Nelson, owner of Nelson’s, said they had their best August ever. He attributes that partly to how they run end-of-season sales. Clearance sales for spring and summer merchandise contribute a lot to their volume of business. They staggered the sales starting out with 30 percent off one week, 40 percent the next week and then 50 percent off through Labor Day weekend.
“If you do it that way, you protect your margins more than dumping it all at half price from the beginning.” Nelson said. “That’s something we have found works for us, and of course, advertising. Year-to-date, we are up. I’m pleased. I’m the hunter-gatherer. My job is to find new interesting, unique products. So, I go to markets all over the place and look. It keeps the store fresh and interesting so there is something new when we have return customers, and we have a lot of return business.”