Bill Pakinkis, Tombstone Chamber of Commerce board member, says Tombstone is a thriving visitor destination.
But take a walk down Allen Street and Misty Estes will tell you something different.
“We thrive on tourism,” said Estes, assistant manager at Superstition Sue Gifts. But Tombstone is “not what it used to be.”
Tombstone feels frozen in time; visitors can easily imagine themselves in the frontier of the 1880s, which is exactly the point.
People “come here for history, come here for Old West entertainment,” Pakinkis said.
Western movies, such as the 1993 “Tombstone,” attract visitors from all over the world.
“It has become too commercialized,” said Estes, who grew up near Tombstone. When she was young, Estes said, the events and entertainment were spontaneous and not choreographed like they are today.
Since Estes’ youth, Allen Street has gone from being a simple dirt road to a paved, albeit cracked, street.
“Bring dirt back,” Estes said. It’s not authentic anymore.
Allen Street is a part of Tombstone’s Historic District. Brick and wood-slatted buildings house saloons, museums and specialty shops selling old western clothing. Choreographed historical reenactments are a part of the daily routine.
“Each and every store is a little chamber of commerce,” said Sonja Nerud, owner of Spur Western Wear. The most important thing is to make the visitor feel welcome and want to return.
In addition to the shops and daily reenactments, Tombstone also holds monthly events to keep people coming, Pakinkis said.
The monthly events are helpful, but there needs to be more, Estes said. In the past three years, Estes said she has seen several businesses close in the historic district.
“People refuse to give up in this town,” Pakinkis said. Many businesses have been around for years because they offer affordable prices and specialty items, Pakinkis said.
The best ways to attract people is through word-of-mouth, said Steven Goldstein, a Tombstone businessman for almost 40 years. Goldstein and his wife Gloria own and operate Café Margarita, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, The Longhorn Restaurant, Tombstone Harley-Davidson and Shady Lady’s Closet.
“Older generations don’t want to give way to the newer generations,” Estes said. She added that the older business owners don’t want to implement new ideas to attract the younger generation.
There needs to be more than billboards and fliers to attract visitors, Estes said. Using social media to advertise events and attractions is the best way to market the town.
There is “nothing to entice” young people, said Estes, adding that most people who visit Tombstone are over 40.
When she was a teen, Estes said Tombstone was the place to be. People of all ages loved visiting the town. Something was going on every day.
Small towns throughout Arizona have been reinvented over the years to attract visitors. Once-prosperous mining towns, now survive on a subculture. Bisbee and Clifton in southeast Arizona and Jerome, in the north central area of the state, are considered artistic hubs. Tombstone utilized history and legends of the Old West to draw people from all over the world.
The “cowboy spirit is still there,” Estes said. “It just needs to be brought back to life.”
Unless they start making an effort to attract the younger generations, Estes said, “Tombstone is going to become a ghost town again.”
Kaleigh Shufeldt is 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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