Thanksgiving weekend brings visitors |

Thanksgiving weekend brings visitors

Ryan Slabaugh and Annie Flanzaich
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Ryan Slabaugh / Tahoe Daily TribuneDiane Pringle, wearing the pink coat, and her daughter, McKenna, and father, Ian Hogg, shop outside Great Outdoor Clothing in Heavenly Village on Friday. The Santa Monica family regularly visits Lake Tahoe and said this year's Black Friday was quieter than most.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Local Derrik Wagner spends his free time a little differently than most of us. He plays Santa Claus in the Holiday Ice Spectacular ice show at the El Dorado Casino in Reno.

But Friday, Wagner traded the white beard, red suit and reindeer sleigh for a small window and cash register, as he rented ice skates to visitors at the rink near the Gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort. Among the scattered crowds milling about, Wagner and his boss, Don Yontz, who formerly performed with the Ice Capades, were hoping to see some business run, walk, or skate through the door.

“We opened on the 19th, and we did four times the business yesterday that we did opening day,” Yontz said. “We don’t know what to expect this weekend, but (Thanksgiving day) was packed.”

According to a recent survey of the Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority’s email database, 31 percent of the 806 respondents said they planned to increase their travel plans to Lake Tahoe for the 2009 Thanksgiving weekend beyond how they traveled in 2008. The reasons they planned to visit centered around sightseeing, gaming, fine dining, shopping and skiing, according to the report.

“We know these people have a propensity to be a regular traveler,” said Carol Chaplin, LTVA executive director. “Hopefully that is representative of our core market, but we hope that means in general that people are traveling more and there are more people traveling to our destination.”

The fast-moving snow storm that was predicted to hit the Basin Friday afternoon could provide a boost to travel bookings, Chaplin said.

“I would imagine people are making a decision on their Tahoe visit based on the snow,” Chapin said. “When we can report that we have snow at Thanksgiving we actually are at an advantage over our competitors. People who aren’t necessarily from close by are making travel plans and they want to know the resort of their choice has snow.”

While visitors were out, shopping was not on the tops of their minds. The madness that accompanies Black Friday across the nation seemed to skip South Lake Tahoe, which was good and bad news.

The good news was the serenity provided a stress-free way for folks to get a head start on their holiday shopping.

“It’s nice to see all the regular faces and shops, but it’s probably the quietest Thanksgiving I’ve seen at the lake,” said Jennifer Roberts, a Southern California resident who has owned a home near the lake for 35 years.

Diane Pringle and her family agreed. Diane called it “a lot quieter than usual,” while her husband, Ken, summarized his own lack of shopping intensity quite simply.

“Men are eating, women are shopping,” he quipped.

The bad news? Local business owners and employees are left with full inventories and the same nervousness about the unknown that’s plagued the local economy since the recession began.

Anthony Spitucci, manager at Great Outdoor Clothing, said he’s not surprised by his mostly-empty store.

“I sell mostly winter stuff,” he said. “You can’t sell a snowball maker when there’s no snow.”

Tom Sebert, a clerk at the Harley Davidson store, said he hoped shoppers were just procrastinating – like him.

“It sure is quiet in here,” said Tom Sebert at the Harley Davidson store. “But I haven’t done any of my shopping, either. I’m not an early riser.”

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