Lamar County will be feeling the effects of the pandemic well into next year, not just on personal levels, but professional ones as well.
With the shutdown, businesses closed — some for good, and events were canceled or postponed. And those events mean not nearly as many people will be traveling to Paris, which for many has become a tourist destination.
Becky Semple, the tourism director the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce, said a lot featured events in Paris, like the Body Art Expo and the Tour de Paris, have been moved to a later date, but some did have to cancel, like the Paris Balloon and Music Festival and the Southwest Shootout Archery Tournament.
“We are re-arranging everything,” she said. “For safety reasons, many are postponing.”
The loss of those events also means a big hit to the city’s tourism dollars.
“The archery tournament brings in well over a million dollars to our community,” Semple said, when factoring in hotel stays, restaurant meals and local shopping during the event. The tournament lasts a week, and some visitors stay longer than that for setup and breakdown for the tournament.
The two biggest events for the city’s tourism sector are the archery tournament and the Tour de Paris, which has been moved to Sept. 26, she said.
“There was a study done several years back at Texas A&M - Commerce,” Semple said. “It was mind-boggling what the archery tournament and the Tour de Paris does for our city.”
The Tour de Paris overlaps with the balloon festival, enticing more visitors to stick around for both events. The tour alone brings in $250,000 to $275,000 to the local economy, Semple said.
“Together these events do quite a lot,” she said.
Paris Balloon and Music Festival
One of the organizers of the balloon fest, Carolyn Patterson, said she didn’t know quite how much money the event brought in to the community.
“All the hotels were filled, between the bike rally and the balloon festival,” she said. “We sold 5,500 tickets at the festival. We also have so many people with the balloon crews staying in town, and children don’t count (for ticket sales).”
The event also draws vendors from outside the Northeast Texas area and musical acts.
Organizers tried to find another acceptable date, but between weather conditions and other scheduled events, it wasn’t possible. Hot air balloons have to have specific conditions for flight, Patterson said, including no wind over 7 mph, and no lighting within a hundred-mile radius, which limits most flights to spring and summer. And, most balloonists travel on a city circuit throughout the country.
“We have a limited window,” she said. “This city has this week, and that city has that week.”
Also, the balloonists attending the event need quite a lot of advanced notice to ship their equipment to a location.
“We’ve had people come from California,” Patterson said. “It’s a very tricky thing.”
She’s sad this year’s event won’t take place. The organization had decided to expand the carnival this year for more rides.
“It does bring a lot of money to Paris,” she said. “It’s a very good event. … It’s a big hit for the community.”
Another event, the Red River Valley Memorial Car Show, had to be canceled as well.
The annual event raises money for the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial, organizer Johnny Williams said.
“We checked with several other car shows, and those were all cancelled (as well,),” he said. “The vast majority of participants are over 60, and might have underlying conditions that would hinder them if they came.”
The event raised $12,000 last year for the memorial, he said, and some of the participants come and stay overnight on Friday to participate on the Friday evening event in downtown Paris, where owners park their vintage cars on the square and listen to live music.
“We will come back next year bigger and better than ever,” Williams said.
The event isn’t the biggest fundraiser for the group, though. The annual October concert is still full steam ahead, Williams said.
“Our largest fundraiser of the years is the October concert, and it’s still on,” he said. “We’re selling tickets for Oct. 3 at Drake’s Party Barn.”
Another canceled event is Red River Valley Quilt Guild’s show. Last year was the inaugural year for the event, and it brought 1,300 visitors through the doors of Love Civic Center, not including vendors and sponsors, organizer Jackie Robinson said.
“We had 28 vendors, and they came from all over the place,” she said.
However, a bright spot for the event is that as quilt guild members called vendors to let them know of the cancellation, almost all of them said to pay it forward to next year.
“Luckily, when we canceled the show this year, over half of them wanted to leave their money with us, in hopes they would get to come back,” Robinson said.
And, sponsors for the event have done the same things, with all but two leaving their money with the organization for the 2021 show next Mother’s Day weekend.
Local hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts have seen quite the hit since the pandemic shut everything down.
“We might as well be shut down,” Magnolia Bed and Breakfast owner Thomas Zimmerman said. “Every single person has canceled.”
For events in Paris, normally he’s booked solid.
“The archers are here a whole week-plus,” Zimmerman said. “Business has really been hurting, but we’re glad people are staying home and being healthy.”
In the normal flow of things, the bed and breakfast has maintained about a 16% occupancy rate.
“It’s not the highest, but it kept us open,” he said. “I did get one email yesterday about trying to book in July.”
Some hotels have also offered discounts for Covid-19 responders, like the Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn Paris, doing their part to help during the pandemic.
While some events have been canceled, others are moving forward as planned, minus spectators.
The annual drag boat races that take place on Lake Crook are still going to happen on June 5-6, Semple said.
“They are still coming to Lake Crook,” she said, “but there will be no spectators.”
The event is still happening because it is a qualifying event for the national racing competition.
And other events later on in the fall and winter are still, cautiously, moving ahead, like the Chaparral Square Dance Association in September and the Paris Municipal Band will still have shows, although it will be limited to three this year. Mannequin Night and the Festival Pumpkins are still a go, Semple said. Also coming up June 5-6 is the Highway 82/287 Yard Sale.
And many events have been rescheduled. Uncle Jesse’s Big Bass Classic has been moved from May to Oct. 24. The Paris Texas Wine Fest has been postponed to a later date, according to Paris Main Street Director Cheri Bedford.
“We haven’t canceled,” she said. “It will be modified, most likely.”
The event is limited to 400 tickets, but a quarter of them are from outside of Northeast Texas.
“One hundred of them are from outside the 754 (zip code) district,” she said. “So, they are coming and spending the night.”
Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the United States, Bedford said, and the shutdown will affect venues and businesses around the country.
“People are staying home,” she said.
But, not everyone. Semple said just this past week, she sent out a tourism packet to a woman who had to cancel her plans to take her daughter to Paris, France.
“She was so cute,” Semple said. “She said, ‘Well, we are not cancelling our trip, we’re just going to a different destination.’”
One-off tourist visits, outside of big events, are hard to pin numbers to, she said. Often people will just show up.
“One really cool thing is last year, a graduating group from a Christian school held their banquet at the Eiffel Tower,” Semple said.
One thing the tourism department is working on is marketing Paris for weddings.
“We have so many beautiful venues,” Semple said, adding the tower and the downtown fountain are popular spots. “We have other places opening up and being built right now.”
The idea is to offer Paris as a full-service wedding spot, with the hotels/motels, bed and breakfasts, several Air BnBs that Semple says are “a tour in themselves,” photographers, caterers, florists, tux rentals, trolley transportation and more.
“We are making Paris a wedding destination,” she said. “That is still in the works.”
Right now, Semple said she is staying positive.
“We are moving things around and going from there,” she said. “We are staying positive, and we want them to feel safe. As things open up, and they will in time, each town has to look at their situation.
“Things are just upside down right now.”
Bedford said another upside to the pandemic is that people are supporting area businesses more.
“We’re just glad we’re having local people support local businesses at this time,” she said.