Tombstone relies on its tourism to keep itself afloat and while those numbers are continuing to tumble the town may find itself six feet below with nothing left but its history.
Or is there hope for the notoriously too tough town?
“Dying’s not much of a living is it?” Trolley conductor Lee Mckechnie tells his few guests as they step off his ride and into the dusty road where they had began just 30 minutes ago. It’s 5 p.m. and the hot air doesn’t indicate it will cool down for at least a couple more hours, if not at all.
“Slow day for a Saturday,” says Gordon Anderson, owner of Larian Motel, who says he’s usually completely booked on the weekends.
A slow summer for Tombstone it has been.
The number of visitors this year dropped to 42,549 compared to last year’s 45,790, decreasing nearly 7 percent overall, according to Robert Carreira, director for the Center of Economic Research at Cochise College.
But Tombstone knows and expects those slow summers and therefore banks on those winter months that are known for being the moneymakers. Due to this year’s exceptionally low numbers, the town’s buckling down in preparation to capitalize on every opportunity that the cooler weather brings.
There’s reason to be hopeful. Most often January through March, the Tombstone Courthouse State Parks sees about twice as many visitors compared to June through August, according to Carreira.
The first Tombstone Territorial Days will be held this weekend, which will be a celebration of Arizona’s military history. The town’s big moneymaker, the 85th Anniversary of Helldorado 2015 will be taking place Oct. 16-18.
“Helldorado is our biggest event of the year. It always brings a few thousand people into the town,” said Anderson who is not just owner of the Larian Motel but also a Helldorado board member and president of the group Tombstone Forward.
Tombstone Forward is a group of community members whose overall mission is to promote and create something new for the town. Other events they have organized include Tombstone Twilight, where shops open late with spontaneous gunfights breaking out in the streets. On Halloween, a zombie parade will be lead by a headless horseman.
While the future does appear hopeful, the Fremont street project could create another obstacle for Tombstone to hurdle. The construction that started about three weeks ago works to narrow State Route 80 as it turns into Fremont Street while entering Tombstone. The end goal is to create a safer crossing for pedestrians as well as adding a more Western style entrance to the town.
But for now the site is “just not very inviting, to put it in the nicest way possible,” said Anderson who is worried the construction, which sits directly in front of his motel, is already affecting business.
Over the past six months lodging accommodation numbers are showing to be down nearly 1 percent compared to last year, according to Carreira.
“It’s scary when seeing the whole front of your business disturbed like that,” said Anderson.
However, Mckechnie, the owner of Old Tombstone Western Town and Tombstone Trolley Tours, said his business is thriving. He credits this to his marketing effort that he promotes to tourists with combo deals and discounts.
“I like to treat the tourists the way I like to be treated when I go to a tourist town,” said Mckechnie.
His theory for the towns’ success is to cross promote each other and work together and not against each other with the attitude that “you might do better today, and I might do better tomorrow, but I think it’s a good thing no matter what.”
Another active promoter of the town is Lincoln Leavere, an actor in Old Tombstone Western Town’s Gunfight show.
Leavere recently starred in two episodes in A Fox television series called Legends & Lies where he played Butch Cassidy. Due to his part in the show he has been doing radio talk shows where he said, “I’m always promoting Tombstone and that’s the sad part where I think the Chamber (of Commerce) should be doing more and the City Council should be doing more but you have idiots like me going out of my way telling people ‘come to Tombstone.’
“We’re hurting right now, the tourism is so dead,” said Leavere, as he sits at the steps of a bar just feet from where he just performed his 3 o’clock show. With a lit cigarette in one hand and cold beer in the other, he takes a long drag and another gulp before he continues. “We’ve done shows with thousands of people before. You come here and you got 14 in the stands and I’m like, ‘Jesus.’ ”
Emily Lai is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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