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Jaffrey

Region in transition

Business owners reflect on Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks’ financial impact

  • Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.
    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.
    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Sue Lyle, co-owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Sue Lyle, co-owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.
    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Sue Lyle, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Sue Lyle, co-owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey, talks about the impact that the town's Festival of Fireworks has had on her small business over the years.<br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

Approximately 32,000 people have gathered at Jaffrey’s Silver Ranch Airpark each August in recent years to see a one-of-a-kind fireworks display that locals say made the small New England town of Jaffrey known to people worldwide. But with the Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks’ cancellation announced last month, restaurant and inn owners throughout the region are trying to predict what the end of a more than 20-year tradition will mean for them financially.

While the end of the festival made everyone’s hearts a little heavier, inn owners say they’re not fearful of monetary losses and believe they’ll be able to recover, thanks to reservations made by other travelers this year. Restaurant owners are less sure about the financial impact they’ll see this summer.

Owners of food establishments told the Ledger-Transcript last week they expect to lose out on business festivalgoers brought to the region in years past. But the negative impact this year, they predict, won’t be an insurmountable financial hardship.

After more than two decades of hosting the event, festival organizers — the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, Silver Ranch Airpark and Atlas — announced this spring they would not continue the beloved fireworks tradition, citing increased public safety costs to protect future festivalgoers. In August 2012, an anonymous letter writer had threatened mass violence at the festival, prompting organizers and law enforcement to cancel that summer’s 23rd annual event.

Sunflowers Café and Catering on Main Street in Jaffrey always experienced an uptick in sales around the time the festival was on, according to owner Carolyn Edwards. The restaurant’s lunch business Friday, Saturday and Sunday was up about 10 percent in 2012 compared to a regular weekend, she said in a recent interview.

“Last year, we had a lot of customers because people were already in town and didn’t know until late that the festival was cancelled,” Edwards said. “This year, it’s hard to say what will happen. The festival put Jaffrey on the map as a destination, and I think when that’s not there the town will feel the impact to some degree — big or small.”

Each year, fireworks organizers hired food vendors to provide festivalgoers with the option of eating inside the airpark prior to the main event. Despite that, restaurant owners in downtown Jaffrey and Rindge said business the weekend of the festival was always up.

Lisa Record, owner of JP Stephens Restaurant and Tavern on Route 202 in Rindge, said sales dropped approximately $2,000 the weekend slated for the 2012 festival, which was cancelled, compared with August 2011, when the festival did take place. In recent years, the dinner rush on Saturday, the night of the festival, was the busiest time for JP Stephens, Record said, explaining that families from out of town stopped for a bite to eat before driving to the big show.

Athens Pizza House and Restaurant on Peterborough Street in Jaffrey also saw an increase in business the weekend of the fireworks every year, no matter the weather, said co-owner Chantha Yin. Sales were consistently above average due to business from festivalgoers, many of whom returned to the restaurant year after year, she said.

Every August, the Benjamin Prescott Inn on Turnpike Road in Jaffrey welcomes returning guests who have ventured back to the area to see the fireworks. “But this year, things will certainly be different,” Sue Lyle, co-owner of the inn, said last week. “It’s so sad, but I know we’ll be OK.”

Lyle said the town of Jaffrey will have to come up with another event to make Jaffrey well-known in a positive way.

When the festival was on, Lyle said the inn received so many requests for reservations that she could have filled the inn’s seven rooms and three suites several times over. But because August is a busy travel month for families anyway, Lyle said, she’s not worried that the festival of firework’s cancellation will result in room vacancies this year.

One couple has returned to Jaffrey for each of the past 15 years to attend the fireworks, Lyle noted, and booked a room with the Benjamin Prescott this year, too, despite the fact that the festival will not take place this August. Instead of attending the fireworks, Lyle said, the couple is planning to go to a performance of the Peterborough Players. “[They] will be making a donation to the [Jaffrey] chamber because they’ve enjoyed the festival for so long and feel bad about what’s happened,” Lyle said.

Eric Lorimer, owner of the Jack Daniels Motor Inn in Peterborough for the last 11 years, said the festival drew great business for the downtown inn, which saw a dozen or so regular guests return every year. Some would stay for two nights, while others were just overnight guests, he said.

“We’d always have a fairly healthy waitlist for that weekend,” Lorimer said. “August is a busy travel month, and this year we’re scheduled to fill the inn with other guests.”

Because of the festival’s notoriety, Lorimer said it was a magnet for the area. And while visitors were in the region, they often discovered other attractions that gave them new reasons to return.

Nancy Lloyd, owner of The Currier’s House Bed and Breakfast in Jaffrey for the past 15 years, said her three rooms were always booked the Friday night before the festival and the Saturday of the event. The last-minute cancellation of the festival in 2012 prompted one registered guest to cancel, but Lloyd said someone who was in town to climb Mount Monadnock booked the same room instead.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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