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Merchants unsure of May Days success Sunny weather adds many tourists to the mix By Paul Andrew Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Such was the case on the May 24 weekend when sunny skies for all three days of the Whistler May Days celebrations brought thousand of tourists to Whistler, making it difficult for Whistler merchants to distinguish visitors from locals. The idea behind May Days was to give residents a special reason to re-visit the village and other heavy traffic areas of Whistler and take in the significant changes to the valley which have occurred in recent years. But with the Soleil 6000 activities bringing people to Whistler for the skiing and entertainment at the Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain, and the village itself being a big draw, Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said it might be wise for the association to consider an alternative weekend, when tourists aren’t expected to flood the valley. "I was here all weekend," O’Reilly said. "I was on the hill because I was part of the No. 1 in the picture we took for the 2010 Olympic bid. And we had friends up so we spent some time with them. But the village was just humming. How much response they got from locals? I don’t know. They may want to change it to another weekend because I’m not sure merchants could necessarily tell the difference." Patti Stewart, who has owned and operated The Body Shop in Whistler Village for more than three years, said the response was good for her store. She said The Body Shop is a daily needs store and she likes to think her store can equally serve both locals and tourists. However, her free make-over offer was especially well received. "It was a good weekend for that because of all the proms and grad ceremonies," Stewart said. "And yes there were a lot of people here and I think it revived some interest in the village. As far as the price in the village for things like daily needs? You can buy a bottle of shampoo in my store and it’s the same price as Vancouver or Toronto," Stewart said. Stewart did say it was difficult to separate the tourists from the locals, but she said an open-house atmosphere prevailed in her store, which she tries to maintain all year. "It was very chatty and conversational," Stewart added. May Days co-ordinator Sally Carmichael said the Pique Passport, which was used for free bus rides all weekend and for the stamps needed to enter to win numerous prize packages, was filled out my 150 people, 97 per cent of which were locals. "I think for a new concept it was good response," Carmichael said. "And merchants I spoke to were very pleased. People were collecting stamps as early as Friday. I think it’s safe to say that it was a successful weekend all around — especially with the sunny weather. So it’s a concept worth building on." Dori Faulkner, a co-owner at Escape Route in Whistler’s Marketplace, said the opposite was true for her store — because of the weather. Being a specialist in outdoor gear means good weather kept her customers in the wilderness. "We had a lot of people walking by and they stopped to look at our tent display but they were all tourists," Faulkner said. "I think the May Days idea was important for the village though. The locals just don’t go to the village anymore because it’s so inconvenient. Here at the Marketplace they can park right in front, get their beer, their gear and their mail and they’re gone." Faulkner, a 10-year Whistler resident, said one of the problems might be that at one time, locals such as herself were told to shop elsewhere because of the perception of higher prices in Whistler. Although she added that attitude may not be popular nowadays, it has long-term impacts. "When I was in my Sprit Days course, we were all told ‘now that your locals, you might as well all go to Squamish for your shopping.’ And I think that’s a bad idea," Faulkner said. "I normally don’t go to the village for everyday shopping. But if I have to buy a special gift or for Christmas shopping I go to the village. And I’ll take my kids there for an outing in the afternoon. But I really like the idea of a Locals Day." David Campbell, owner of Keir Fine Jewellery in Whistler Village, said the response he received for his Dig For A Diamond contest was excellent. Campbell is on the Whistler Merchants Association committee and has operated his business for six years. "I guess what we’re trying to do is get way from the badge locals wear that says: ‘I haven’t been in the village for three months and I’m proud of it’," Campbell said. "But the thing a lot of locals don’t understand is their business is important to us — and our prices are comparable to the city. But we noticed a lot of familiar faces and we had 300 people out for our contest." Campbell said it was interesting that some national chain stores such as Eddie Bauer, Birks, and Starbucks didn’t participate, but added most decisions probably aren’t made at the local level for those stores. Meanwhile, the Whistler Merchants Association will look at the long weekend event and consider an alternate date. "Maybe we’ll change the date because we did have a long discussion about it. But then what day will you have it on? April, when it’s quiet? So yes, we’ll review it but I found that overall, May Days was very well done."

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