At a time when traffic to the North Coast normally begins to slow down after Labor Day, hotels were suddenly at full capacity and stores were rushing to meet an increased demand.
The wildfires that broke out in other areas of Oregon and Washington in September drove many to evacuate their homes or to escape the hazardous air quality and head for the North Coast and the Long Beach Peninsula.
Strong lodging numbers
Jocelyn Weaver, front desk clerk at Gearhart by the Sea Resort, was very busy with the influx of guests in mid-September.
“We’ve been completely sold out from evacuees. We are completely slammed,” Weaver said before promptly returning to check in guests.
Carol Zahorsky, media relations person for the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, said hotels and restaurants on the peninsula saw a spike in business as well, with some at 100% capacity.
“We definitely did see an upsurge in people staying overnight to avoid the smoke,” Zahorsky said.
She said a trend of smoky summers may happen in the future, but she’s not going to market the peninsula as a place to escape smoke and fires.
“There’s a lot of sensitivity to that, and it could turn at any moment and be on us as well,” Zahorsky said.
The air quality index during the second and third weeks of September often indicated “very unhealthy” air on the North Coast, though it was still an improvement over the “hazardous” air in much of the rest of western Oregon.
Catering to different needs
David Reid, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the type of visitors who came to the coast during this time were different than regular tourists.
“Not only were their reasons for being here different, but also their spending habits were different,” Reid said, adding that those who had been displaced by wildfires were spending money on lodging and food, but not on attractions like gift shops or museums. “If we think this is going to be an ongoing thing, everybody needs to gear up for that and basically make their offerings useful for those folks.”
For example, he said, hotels could offer long-term rental deals during fire season, or stores could offer discounts for wildfire refugees and stock up on products that will ease their burden.
Eric Peterson, assistant store manager for Fred Meyer in Warrenton, said the store sold a large number of air filters and purifiers during that time.
“We probably sold a whole year’s worth of air purifiers in one day,” Peterson said in mid-September. “We’ve had quite a bit of increased business last week from customers who had evacuated from their houses and have been staying in the area.”
He said many of the customers told him and his employees what they were shopping for and that they had been relocated.
But while some businesses were seeing more traffic, others were dealing with a different kind of traffic.
TP Freight Lines, which has a depot in Miles Crossing and carries everything from paper rolls to medical supplies throughout the coast, struggled to make its deliveries to and from fire-affected areas.
Justin Henry, operations manager, said the biggest challenge was the Echo Mountain Complex fire in the Lincoln City area.
“We had to completely close down our Lincoln City office and freight dock for a while, and in that area Highway 101 was closed so we had to move our operation to Eugene for a few days,” Henry said.
TP Freight also serves the fire-stricken areas of Phoenix and Talent out of its Medford office.
“We have a fair amount of freight stacking up here because businesses aren't able to receive their freight,” Henry said in mid-September.
Though every fire season is different, Henry said TP Freight has contingency plans in place in order to work through natural disasters.
“We always find a way to support the local businesses,” Henry said. “We keep chugging along and try to adapt as the environment changes.”