Tourist season starts strong

Local businesses see up to 20% increase over last year

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL
LACONIA DAILY SUN
Judging by the activity over Memorial Day weekend, Lakes Region tourism officials are predicting a strong summer season, boosted by a number of new attractions as well as the loyalty of return visitors.
Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association said businesses are reporting increases between 1 and 20 percent from a year ago, with lodging establishments averaging 97 percent occupancy over the three days.
Even with the cool, rainy weather on Monday, inside businesses made up for the drop in outside activity, Landers said. “They just did other things than they were planning to do,” she said.
Traffic counts were extremely high throughout the weekend, with people visiting family and friends or attending weddings, graduations and concerts. The four Zac Brown concerts at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford were sold out every night, and Karmen Gifford, of the Laconia Chamber of Commerce, said many people attended more than one concert, which meant they needed overnight lodging.
“I think we lucked out with the weather,” Gifford said. “All those I’ve spoken with had a great weekend. Boats are in the water, and the businesses were busy, especially the restaurants.”
She said the Winnipesaukee Fishing Derby served as a good lead-in for the weekend, as well, attracting a thousand contestants.
Susan Cerutti of the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce, representing the towns at the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee, as well as Squam, echoed the observations of her colleagues.
Meredith had its 26th annual craft fair at Mill Falls Marketplace, and Cerutti said the festival has a loyal following. “It’s very helpful to all the stores on Main Street and in the Marketplace,” she said, “as well as the restaurants.”
Cerutti also noted the number of boats on the lakes and said Holderness marinas were reporting lots of last-minute boat rentals in addition to those who had made reservations. Camper traffic also was up, Gifford said.
Landers’ statistics show visitors were here from Boston and southern New Hampshire, as well as other parts of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut. While there were some Canadian visitors, Landers said Memorial Day is not a big weekend for our neighbors to the north.
Gifford, however, said she has received a lot of calls from Canadians interested in coming here this summer. “The exchange rate for the dollar is better for us going there,” she said, “but we have a better price on petrol down here, so there’s not a problem with Canadians coming here to visit.”
The United Kingdom also generates a lot of traffic on the Laconia chamber’s website, Gifford said. “Canada and the UK are the ones we draw from the most,” she said of foreign visitors.
Landers said her organization markets the state in Canada and Europe, as well as other overseas markets. She noted that TIA, the Travel Industry of America, will hold its three-day IPW trade show in Washington, D.C., next week, and the Lakes Region Tourism Association will be there. “We have one-on-one appointments with tour operators from all over the world,” she said.
Gifford said she already has been receiving inquiries about Motorcycle Week.
“People are struggling to find places to stay,” she said. “Proctor’s was full for Memorial Day weeks before the weekend came.”
“There’s a lot going on in the Lakes Region,” Landers said, pointing to Gunstock’s growth with the addition of its Mountain Coaster, as well as the expansion of businesses and restaurants at the Winnipesaukee Pier at Weirs Beach. Polar Caves in Plymouth has made major renovations and added new attractions; the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad has partnered with the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and will be offering a new train and cruise package; and other businesses are adding new attractions, she said.
Gifford noted that The Naswa has a full summer of special activities planned, including this weekend’s third annual Naz AquaMania with “boats, water toys, music and food” as the attraction.
Cerutti also said the summer is looking very promising. “We’re getting a lot of requests for wedding information, and we’re starting to receive inquiries from the Midwest for the fall, much earlier than usual. The chamber is working on our 38th annual arts and crafts festival for the end of August, and the Sculpture Walk is a huge draw — that is definitely bringing people to Meredith. The good thing is it’s something people walk around to do, and that gets them out around the town.”
Discussing the cool, rainy weather that has been so prevalent this spring, Gifford said it has not been a deterrent to golfers, with the golf courses in great shape. “They’re doing very well, even with the rain, and it’s not affecting the fairways,” she said.
“I’m excited about the summer,” Gifford said. “I think our biggest challenge is making sure employers have the staffing they need. The visitors are there; that’s increasing.”

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
  • Category: Local News
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Woman hurt, 150-year-old building damaged in fire caused by smoking

06 01 15 Orange Street fire

Fire at 15 Orange St., Laconia, yesterday did an estimated $200,000 damage. The building was built in 1870. Over the years, the home was converted into an apartment building, now housing 11 apartments. AP reports that a woman summoned help with her medical alert pendant and that one woman was seen running from the building with her clothes on fire. Five families were displaced. (Courtesy Laconia Fire Dept.)

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A woman who was smoking in an apartment where medical oxygen was used touched off a fire early Wednesday that did an estimated $200,000 damage to a nearly 150-year-old structure, fire officials said.

The woman, whose identity was not released, was taken to a hospital for treatment of burns. The injuries were not life-threatening, Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said. A man was treated on the scene for smoke inhalation.

The woman used her medical alert device to report the fire shortly after 4 a.m. Firefighters from Laconia’s Central Station responded within minutes and found flames shooting out of the building. Blaring smoke alarms warned residents of the fire and they were able to get out on their own.

“We had a significant volume of fire on arrival and the firefighters were able to knock that down,” Erickson said. “They did a phenomenal job.”

Crews searched the structure to make sure everybody got out safely.

“All the stars were aligned this morning,” Erickson said.

About 40 firefighters from several departments were able to get the blaze under control by 5:30 a.m. and they began leaving the scene at 9 a.m.

Fire crews prevented the blaze from spreading to a nearby building.

The fire department said the house at 15 Orange Court, off of Court Street, was built in 1870.

Warren Huse, an author who has written about the history of Laconia, said Richard Gove, a wealthy jeweler, built the brick mansion between the Winnipesaukee River and Orange Court.

Later it was home to merchant Frank H. Lougee, senior member of the original Lougee Bros. Department Store, located just south of the Main Street Bridge.

The building, which is two stories in front and three stories in back, was later converted into 11 apartments.

The original 12-foot-high ceilings had been lowered to 8 feet which made the job of firefighters more difficult because it created space for the fire to spread undetected.

The fire started in a front living room and was caused by discarded smoking materials.

“The occupant had been using medical oxygen prior to the fire,” stated a fire department news release. “This caused an oxygen-rich environment on the couch, which quickly ignited.”

The building is owned by Gilbert Trust of Laconia.

  • Written by Rick Green
  • Category: Local News
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Elm Street School helps Colonial Theatre

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, is used to dealing in multimillion-dollar projects.

Yesterday, he was working in smaller denominations.

Slattery accepted a $250 check from third-graders at Elm Street School, who raised the money in a walkathon and decided to donate it in support of the $14.6 million project to restore the historic Colonial Theatre.

Andy Mercer, the teacher of the class, remembers seeing “The Mighty Ducks” at the multiplex that once operated in the 103-year-old theater. He liked the idea of giving something back to his community.

“As a person who grew up in Laconia, I benefitted from little league, youth soccer, basketball and teachers all the way through,” he said. “Coming back and being part of the town, making a difference personally and educationally is very gratifying and satisfying.”

In honor of the contribution, the class name will be marked on one of the seats in the theater.

Slattery said, in all, $1.5 million has been secured in a public fundraising campaign for the theater restoration.

“The community support has been incredible,” he said.

Other money for the project has come in the form of a loan from the city of Laconia, as well as state and federal tax credits and grants.

The complicated funding package has taken time to assemble, Slattery said.

“We have secured the financing and are finalizing it for closing,” he said.

In addition to refurbishing the theater, the project will provide 14 apartments and four commercial units.

The theater hasn't been used in years, and major work will be needed on electrical, plumbing and heat and air systems.

06 01 Elm St. Colonial donation 1 06 01 Elm St. Colonial donation 2

Third-grader Jacob Tryon presents a $250 check to Justin Slattery of the Belmont Economic Development Council in support of a project to restore the Colonial Theatre. The children raised the money in a walkathon. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)

  • Written by Rick Green
  • Category: Local News
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