Summer 'struggle' now more of a lull
Yuma more fluid year-round, East County sees more of a seasonal dip for area businesses
BY MARA KNAUB SUN STAFF WRITER
Alberta Newspaper Group
IN YEARS PAST, when summer hit, Yuma County businesses took a hit as well, as winter visitors left for cooler climates. Some businesses would close down completely for the summer, while others shortened their days or hours. However, the “summer struggle” seems to be more of a “summer lull.” Some long-time residents notice less of a difference between seasons. “Twenty years ago, business dropped off a cliff when the snowbirds left,” developer Ross Wait said. “I feel that summer business still slows down in the Foothills, but not near as much as they used to.” The magnitude of the impact seems to depend on the business location. Yuma has more full-time residents so the downtimes are not as noticeable. The Foothills, on the other hand, has more winter residents so the impact is felt more. This is what Russell McCloud, owner of Accurate Automotive Attention, which has two locations, has noticed. “It depends on which of our locations we are considering. Our main location in central Yuma does not see such a dramatic change in business as in years past. Things stay pretty steady with the exception of September which has always been the slowest time of year. We attribute that to back-to-school expenses and temperatures beginning to drop,” McCloud said. “Although our Foothills locations are staying busier during the summer, they do experience a dramatic drop during the summer months compared to when the winter visitors are here. Our car wash drops by over 65% in volume as well as the quick lube center. The repair side drops a lot too, but not that dramatically,” McCloud noted. Data still shows a dip in the Yuma general sales tax collections during the summer, but not as much as it used to. Jeff Burt, the city’s economic development administrator, pointed out that the city’s general sales tax collection, which is rather consistent year over year, indicates that in August, the city on average collects 7% of the annual sales tax revenues. “(August) would be our slowest month, but consistently so,” Burt noted. Yuma on average collects 10% in January, when the city is considered to be at a peak for winter visitors and seasonal labor. The other months hover around 8-9%. “Remove 60,000 to 80,000 consumers from a market the size of Yuma, and you’re going to see it to some degree in the revenue numbers,” Burt said. Wayne Gale, chief executive officer of 1st Bank Yuma, recalls that when the bank first opened in 2001, it experienced “sizable spikes” in business during the first few years as winter visitors either arrived for the winter or left for the summer. “In more recent years, with the bank’s growth, specifically in commercial business, the effect of the swing from winter visitors has become modest. The bank continues to experience a more moderate amount of seasonality due to Yuma’s agricultural seasons,” Gale said. Howie Jorajuria, chief operating officer, notes that although 1st Bank Yuma has experienced less seasonality over time, many of the bank’s customers face a different reality. “Operating seasonal businesses can be challenging and managing cash flow, in particular, is critical. This is something we help our customers with by gaining a thorough understanding of their business and customizing loan packages to meet their seasonal needs,” he said. And, recently, that “reality” also included a pandemic. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic deeply impacted businesses in the summers of 2020 and 2021. This summer, life seems to be more back to normal, however, companies are still trying to gauge how much business will dip this year,” Jorajuria added. As the community emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are still trying to discover what this “new normal” will look like. “While the past several years have been anything but typical for Yuma Regional Medical Center, we generally do experience a spike in the winter as our population increases,” said Shay Andres, director of marketing. “With more people vaccinated we are seeing far fewer COVID19 hospitalizations. Moving into the summer, YRMC has experienced a steady increase in patients seeking care for postponed elective health needs.” Yuma County spokesman Kevin Tunell observed: “The reality is that we have yet to see what the new normal will be after the pandemic is officially over, which won’t likely happen in the next few weeks.” Consequently, Tunell noted, it would be unfair to compare the summers prior to the pandemic (2019 and prior) to the summers during the pandemic (2020 and 2021) to be able to predict with any certainty what may take place this upcoming summer (2022). Nevertheless, the anecdotal evidence suggests that while central Yuma is steadier year-round, East County still experiences seasonal ups and downs. A good example of this is Wellton, which is home to many winter residents. Some of the RV parks stay open, but most of them close down for the summer. Other businesses respond by shortening their hours and closing certain days, “to make sure they can stay open,” Wellton Mayor Cecilia McCollough said, noting that at least two restaurants have done this this summer. “I think it is very wise,” she added, “for the most part because on the long-term basis they’re doing much better.” However, Wellton also has a steady population that supports the year-round businesses. The region, including Dateland which has a solar project, has a lot of yearround construction activity going on, which means that contractors and workers make it their temporary home and they need places to eat and buy food and necessities. “The hotel is busy, and those that are staying there, they frequent some of the local restaurants and shops. We are very grateful for that transitory population. I know they’re going to be here for a while so it will benefit the town,” McCollough said. Wellton is also home to Yuma Proving Ground workers and Border Patrol agents. When members of the National Guard were in the region to support border security, many chose to stay in the town. As business grows in Wellton, the town is looking into ways to help them continue to grow. Richard Marsh, the town’s new manager, coordinated with National Bank of Arizona to hold business roundtable meetings every month. “There’s 20-30 people, and lots of conversation and getting to know one another and introductions to businesses. We don’t know where the connections are going to be made, but it’s a good start to promoting businesses ini Wellton. It’s really, really impressive,” McCollough said. In the Foothills, in years past, business would literally come to a standstill. That is no longer the case. Several businesses, including the Simply Shabby Mini Mall and Jimmie K’s Restaurant, made it a point to announce that they will be open all year. Ross Wait, the longtime developer, has seen the growth in the Foothills firsthand. “This past winter I felt that there were many more winter visitors than we have ever had before. Traffic was the worst I have ever experienced in the Foothills and in Yuma. I have attributed the increase in traffic to the very large number of snowbirds that came back to Yuma for this past winter season,” he said. Wait noted that COVID-19 kept many U.S. visitors at home and Canadian officials made them stay in Canada for the 2020/2021 winter season. But, he said, “this last winter they were all free to go wherever they wanted and the Foothills/Yuma area attracted many of these visitors. Because of this large increase in winter visitors, the majority of Foothills businesses experienced explosive growth in sales.” Another huge factor for the Foothills is the local growth. “I believe there are more new home subdivisions being built out here than anywhere else in Yuma County. There is a new 379-lot residential subdivision underway off of Foothills Boulevard and several more that could result in over 1,000 lots near Fortuna Road. Also, explosive home development growth around the 32nd Street Walmart,” Wait said. “It is this year-round growth that has stopped the falling off-of-a-cliff that the Foothills used to experience. New year-round locals buying or building homes now represents the majority of the growth in the Foothills, and that trend will continue,” Wait added.