Later this week, Mountain Home will once again play host to one of southern Idaho's largest public events. About the only exception will be the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 that's expected to — pardon the pun — overshadow anything we've seen to date in terms of expected crowds.
By Thursday, the first of thousands of travelers will descend to our part of the state as they prepare to be a part of the Mountain Home Country Music Festival. While it's tough to put an exact number on how many people will attend the three-day event, organizers are preparing for at least 20,000 people.
Putting that into perspective, that one event in the foothills north of town will come close to matching the population of Elmore County. Last year, the festival crowds surpassed the total population of Mountain Home by about 1,000 people.
Since it's debut two years ago, the festival's economic boost in some parts of the county was definitely noticeable while it had a limited impact elsewhere. When in debuted back in 2015, the hope was the concert venue here would provide the same type of economic boost that two Oregon communities see each time they host a similar venue there
Businesses in one of those communities emphasized that the festival alone generates enough of an economic boost in just a couple of days than these shops and stores make throughout the remainder of the year. For them, the festival has become the "lifeblood" of their existence.
From Mountain Home's perspective, it's clear that some businesses in town stand to benefit from the concert, especially those north of the interstate where all the RVs, campers, trucks, cars will pass.
Don't believe me? Try reserving a hotel room up on the hill.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Here's why those rooms are so scarce. As soon as organizers announced the dates of this year's festival and the names of the headliners performing all three evenings, rooms at the three hotels on Highway 20 were booked almost immediately.
Granted, a handful of those rooms became available over the next few months after some festival goers had to change their plans. However, those hotels are expected to book up once again when next year's festival lineup is announced later this week.
While it's understandable that some businesses here will benefit more than others, I believe that shops and stores that got overlooked the last two years will still see a boost in revenue. It's because the festival helped put Mountain Home "on the map," so to speak.
Translated: Travelers know what's available here and are starting to use our town as a place to stop as they travel through the state throughout the rest of the year.
With that in mind, I feel it's important that we take a few steps to roll out the welcome mat. After all, not everyone that goes to the festival will stay there all three days. It's a safe bet some of them will choose to book a hotel or motel room in town and then drive back and forth to the concert site each day.
This is where Mountain Home needs to put on its "A" game. While things should've happened a few weeks ago, it's still not too late to get some must-do chores finished before the first visitors arrive.
While everyone in this town is used to how this community functions, including all of the quirks that make Mountain Home so unique, the visitors we welcome will base their opinion on what they see and who they talk to. It all comes down to whether we make a positive first impression.
For the most part, Mountain Home is in pretty good shape, despite getting beaten up by this year's record winter and the recent heat wave that continues to bake southern Idaho. There are businesses and homeowners out there that put a lot of time, energy and effort to ensure what they own looks inviting.
However, there are places leading into town that look — and there's no way to politely put this — absolutely horrible. When people drive on these roads and all they see are homes and buildings that look like they've been abandoned for decades, it sets the wrong tone.
We can't instantly tear down or fix up these eyesores, but there are other things we can do right now. The first step is giving our shops and stores a thorough once-over inside and out ensure everything is presentable. The same is true with property along the city's main traffic arteries.
It starts by store owners running a trimmer or buying a bottle of weed killer to knock down the knee-high weeds I see growing up thought the gaps in sidewalks or along building fronts (don't think I hadn't noticed). The next step involves sweeping the cobwebs, dust and trash out of all the nooks and crannies along the outside of your shop or store along with an effort to clean the windows and sprucing up what you have on display in them.
There's nothing worse than having a visitor walk by your place and it looks like a dump — that you've done absolutely nothing to take care of your property. If you don't care about how your store looks, it's a safe bet that visitors won't care either, and they'll simply continue to walk or drive by.
There's nothing that says "we don't care" more than having trash along the streets or in front of a business, areas that are not maintained and falling apart and lawns where the weeds are taller than the flowers next to them. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to run a lawn mower, push a broom or clean a window.
Starting today, July 26, Mayor Rich Sykes and other city employees are taking time out of their busy schedules to get this effort off the ground. They'll be busy pulling weeds, sweeping and "power washing" walkways and getting parts of town spruced up as a way to roll out the welcome mat.
This is something that, from my perspective, should've been already started by the people who own these buildings. It shouldn't take the urging of the city's leadership to convince these individuals to take a few minutes out of their day to clean up their property.
When it comes to attracting shoppers to your shop or store, here's another suggestion: Make sure our visitors know you're open by placing a visible "sandwich board" sign along the sidewalk that clearly says "open." If you plan on offering discounts to anyone with a festival wristband, you should include that information on that message board.
Here's something else to consider, especially the "mom and pop shops" that make up a bulk of the stores in town. Make sure you're open when the visitors are out and about in town.
This means changing a store's hours so it's open longer during the day and, more important, into the early evening. Economic development experts emphasized this is when most of these people are out walking. After all, you don't want to spend a lot of time and effort inviting customers to town only to have them see "closed" signs in most of the windows.
Ultimately, what I'd like to see are happy visitors that like Mountain Home so much that they want to stay here an extra day just to see what else we have to offer. We want this city to be the "hub" that encourages them to take a day trip to Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Three Island Crossing State Park or Anderson Ranch Reservoir and then return here to eat and rest.
If these guests like what they see this year, maybe they'll want to make Mountain Home one of their travel destinations when they return next year. On the other hand, if they drive into town and don't like what they see, it's a safe bet they won't return.
This is why it's so critical to ensure this doesn't happen. There are a number of things we seriously need to tackle before these folks arrive so they feel welcome, and time is quickly running out.
We only have one chance to make a positive first impression with these visitors. Let's make sure it's a good one.
— Brian S. Orban