Retailers and hoteliers are optimistic that the rest of the summer could bring more business even though June sales were down compared to last year.
“People are just being a lot more cautious,” said Marianne Barker, owner of Impressions of Saratoga. “People are just thinking about what they’re buying — ‘Do I really need that?’”
While restaurants are reporting good food and beverage sales in June, retail and lodging fell short of last year’s business for some establishments, said David Zunker, president of Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.
Dawn Oesch has heard the same sentiment as president of the Downtown Business Association.
“I think the consumer right now is nervous,” said Oesch, the owner of The Candy Co. “You’re scared to drive somewhere because you don’t want to pay all that money for gas.”
But Oesch thinks business will bounce back.
“I do believe the consumer will come back. They’ll just be frugal.”
Hotels are reporting strong advance bookings for July and August, Zunker said, a sign that the Spa City might not be hit too hard by the softening economy.
“I think we’re appealing because we’re easily travelable,” Barker agreed. People who live in Boston, New York City and Long Island can make the trip here more affordably than they can fly elsewhere.
Len Ledet of Scottsdale, Ariz. knows all about the high cost of airplane tickets.
He and his wife, Charlene, like to come visit their son and his family in Schenectady, but forked over more than double the fare this year than they paid last year.
“We may not come as often,” Ledet said. He priced the cost of driving and staying in hotels instead of flying, but said that was even more than the $1,000 plane ticket to Albany.
The Ledets usually find their way to Saratoga Springs when they’re in the area.
“My wife loves to shop the main street here, and you guys provide benches for the males, which is key,” Ledet said with a smile.
The uncertainty over who will come this summer is making retailers take a second look at their own buying habits.
Barker said she’s developing more relationships with suppliers that can ship quickly rather than stocking up on products in advance.
“We’re trying not to stock too deeply,” she said.
Hotels are beefing up their business by booking groups that come for corporate meetings or conventions in case individual travelers don’t want to drive here, Zunker said.
They’ve noticed the booking window — the amount of time between when people reserve their rooms and when they arrive — seems to be getting shorter.
“People are waiting to see if there are better deals out there,” Zunker said. “We have the airlines to thank for that.”
Most hotels’ rates don’t change even if people wait until the last minute to book.
The Batcheller Mansion Inn is one exception, offering a “procrastinator’s special” on Sunday through Thursday nights for people who wait until the 11th hour to reserve rooms, said part-time innkeeper Ninki Carroll. “A couple people have taken us up on that.”
The Saratoga Hilton is seeing groups waiting until later — maybe a week or two instead of a month — to book rooms, said sales and marketing director Darryl Leggieri.
“I think people are waiting to see how the economy is before they pull the trigger,” Leggieri said.
Still, the Broadway hotel is doing well. “Looking forward, we’re going to have a strong summer,” he said. “All indications are that we are up over last year.”