No holiday blues at Lake Tahoe |

No holiday blues at Lake Tahoe

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

As the crunch of the holidays bears down in the last stretch of 2003, tourism officials report the emergence of a long-awaited surge in guest visits – an almost doubling of the number of nights South Shore visitors book.

Area bookings taken over the central reservations line of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority show an increase in the average stay from 2.8 nights to 4.3 for this holiday week. On the North Shore, the trend shows tourists reserving rooms for six nights versus 5.1 from a year ago.

That’s a promising sign of an upward swing to a break-even economy at best. The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, which handles lodging reservations around the lake for the LTVA, also reports the call volume has gone up for Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is the first time in 16 months.

The number of calls lakewide went up by 7 percent for the Thanksgiving holiday. Christmas bookings have not been finalized.

“We have a lot of momentum coming into the Christmas holiday,” association spokesman Andy Chapman said. “When people call, they’re more serious. It shows great interest. Certainly, the snow has helped.”

Chapman points to the pedestrian-friendly ski villages based at the Heavenly Gondola and Squaw Valley coming on line, along with Christmas falling on Thursday.

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The boost in traffic could be just in time for some area businesses either frustrated by a sputtering economy or holding on by a thread. A multitude of South Lake Tahoe businesses have closed in the last year. Even the longtime, mainstay businesses have noticed a dip.

Evan Williams, who owns the Cantina restaurant, said the Thanksgiving holiday was disappointing in comparison to last year. The restaurant was closed for Thanksgiving, but the long weekend showed cash register receipts were down by 8 percent.

“Curiously, we’re up for November,” he said.

His prediction through the holidays and into the coming year leans toward break-even sales.

Holiday shoppers have Kmart management thinking the same thing.

“We’re about even with last year,” Assistant Manager Bill Burns said.

The last-minute Christmas-shopping rush is on, so it’s premature to make any final predictions, he stressed. The inventory of gift sets, board games like the “Lord of the Rings” version of Monopoly and Barbie’s Smart Kitchen lines the shelves awaiting vacationers and locals.

The crunch-time push spans to Stateline.

“It was a little slow, but now that we’re down to the wire, business has been good,” said Lynn Beaman, head cashier of Sports Ltd. at the Village Center.

-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at