Summer tourism gives BM businesses needed boost

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Montreat resident Priscilla Maxwell notices a completely different atmosphere around her neighborhood come June to August.

Cousins Leila Watson, left, and Lillian Walker, right, are transfixed by the ice cream selections at Kilwin’s, which on June 25 was full of visitors from out of town.

Just as she's heading to bed, many of the youth conferences in town are wrapping up evening sessions. Kids start roaming Montreat's streets in large groups. The neighborhoods near Maxwell's house shift from a peaceful community surrounded by mountain laurel to one alive with teenage energy.

Maxwell tries to handle the noise with grace.

"It's a small price to pay for getting to live in Montreat," she said. "And it does not last too long."

Though the lazy days of summer are here, many local businesses kick into overdrive when it's hot. The money they make during summer sustains them during the long winter. Those dollars give Black Mountain a significant financial boost.

Crowded conference centers, energetic summer camps, visiting vacationers — one can't help but notice the added activity around town. Among those bringing campers, family members and staff - and all the money they spend on food, lodging, shopping and whatnot - are Montreat Conference Center, Ridgecrest Conference Center, Camp Timberlake for Boys, Camp Merri-Mac for Girls, Camp Rockmont for Boys, Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls. Parents dropping off and picking up campers often stay overnight. Staff members living in the area often go off campus to eat and have fun.

Amy Lyda, owner of Black Mountain Bistro, said the summer months keep the business afloat during the rest of the year, particularly during the leaner winter and early spring months. "We appreciate the conference groups that dine with us year after year. And the repeat business of tourists is a great help to us," she said.

Saturdays are especially busy during the summer at Merry Wine Market, as are Black Mountain’s sidewalks.

This summer, Kilwin's in Black Mountain has turned itself into "Camp Kilwin's" in an effort to attract camp kids, counselors and family members. Summer ice cream flavors have been added, along with treats like chocolate-covered marshmallows.

At Dynamite Coffee, summer visitors often become regular customers after having tried their coffee beans while in town. "Because our coffee is now available online and in grocery stores in other parts of the country, the summer tourism really helps us grow our business," owner Andy Gibbon said.

Last year, the months of June through August accounted for nearly 45 percent of Greybeard Realty's rental business, owner Chip Craig said. Those are the months that employees work the hardest, he said. "The week of July 4 is particularly challenging for making Montreat rentals," he said, because that's when his company receives the most requests. It's also when many owners of rental properties want to use their homes, he said.

It can be challenging to build a year-round business in a small community, Red Radish owner Marcus Duarte believes. His goal is to be busy all year with local residents and guests, with the summer crowd being the icing on the cake.

The boost to the town's tourism also presents inconveniences. Making a left turn off Church Street can be a challenge. Noise in the evenings, long waits at downtown stoplights, crowded grocery parking lots and long lines at restaurants are all part of summer in Black Mountain.

Parking downtown is surely more harder to find. As frustrating as it can be, irritations like these signify something good.