TRAVERSE CITY — Tourists think of Front Street as a clean, well-lighted place, a respite from trudging the hot summer sidewalks of big cities like Chicago.
They travel from afar seeking solace in the green hills of Traverse City. The sun sets each evening over West Grand Traverse Bay, lulling vacationers into pleasant slumber in motel rooms, cottages and tents. The sun also rises over East Bay to rouse them from their dreams.
“It’s just the perfect mix of water and downtown,” Steve Maul, of Macomb County, said of Traverse City.
Maul and his wife, Janet, were in town last week for what was their sixth — or possibly eighth — annual summer trip to the area. Neither could recall exactly how many times they’ve enjoyed the company of the twin bays. But they keep coming back.
They travel north each summer with friends who own a condominium on East Bay. A stroll along Front Street is a requirement each time the Mauls visit town. They purchase jellies from Cherry Republic and artistic creations from other shops. This year, a set of mosaic drink coasters ended up in their shopping bag. The selection of items they purchase varies from year to year. But they’re always unique creations that help remind them of their time spent in the north country.
“I like things you can’t get anywhere else,” Janet Maul said.
Front Street becomes a moveable feast of potential customers for the shops that line downtown’s sidewalks.
The Anderson Economic Group said 3.3 million tourists visited Traverse City in 2012, the most recent annual estimate available.
More than 113 million tourists visited Michigan in 2014, according to research commissioned by Travel Michigan and conducted by Tourism Economics.
Visitors to Michigan spent $22.8 billion on lodging, food, beverages, recreation, entertainment and transportation in 2014. Their purchases generated nearly $2.4 billion in state or local tax revenue and $2.5 billion in federal tax revenue. Their commerce accounted for more than 214,000 Michigan jobs.
“The summer is off to a great start,” said Todd Gyulveszi, assistant retail manager at Cherry Republic on Front Street.
The store normally uses the July 4 weekend as its annual benchmark to compare sales with previous years.
“We’ve already seen an increase prior to that,” said Gyulveszi.
Sales are up an average of 20 percent day-to-day over last year, he said. Around 30 percent of the store’s customers now buy something in its new cafe, which opened a month ago.
Shoppers scan store shelves all along Front Street and ponder the question of to have and have not, to buy or not to buy.
Ken He, of New York City, visited friends in Traverse City three or four years ago. He has returned each summer since.
“It’s amazing here,” he said. He said his hometown’s summers don’t compare. “It’s not pleasant.”
Traverse City rolls out all her most popular attractions in the height of summer. Waters, dunes, beaches and woods beckon visitors from afar.
Sam Perfanov, of Chicago, said nature draws him to Traverse City.
“The forests, the beach so close to town” brought him to the area for four days this summer, he said. “Downtown is just so cool.”
Perfanov spent money at American Spoon Foods, M22 and Cherry Republic.
Some visitors may fear their upbeat vacation mood will lead them to spend a bit too freely. That’s always a danger.
But this is not the dangerous summer for local business. The warm season, with its influx of tourists, sustains Traverse City shopkeepers. The dual natural bounty of woods and water function like a big two-hearted river, pumping the blood of economic life into the business district and into the lives of the many workers it employs.
Editor’s Note: References to titles by Ernest Hemingway are used with respect for the author’s work.