After a busy summer, the Boardwalk’s roller coasters and rides are now empty. Local business owners prepare for Santa Cruz’s off-season. Photo by Isaac Miller.
After a busy summer, the Boardwalk’s roller coasters and rides are now empty. Local business owners prepare for Santa Cruz’s off-season. Photo by Isaac Miller.

Every year after Labor Day, the neighborhood surrounding the Boardwalk transforms from a bustling pool of congestion to a near ghost town.

But even this year’s summer season — which traditionally brings with it lots of Boardwalk area bustle — was significantly more quiet than in previous years according to Praff and Sunni Patel, who own and manage the Super 8 Motel at 334 River Street, located just a few blocks from the Boardwalk.

“It was definitely slow,” Praff said. “It was harder to fill the rooms compared to previous years. Obviously, when the economy’s strong, people have the money to travel. This year, for sure, it was much harder. But you know, we’ll have to survive.”

According to the Santa Cruz Conference and Visitors’ Council (CVC), hotel occupancy in Santa Cruz County declined 7 percent this year from the previous summer, and the average daily rate was down 10 percent.

The CVC also reported that between 75 and 80 percent of summer visitors to Santa Cruz County came from Northern California and the Central Valley.

Tom Cole, manager of the Babbling Brook Inn, a 13-room bed and breakfast located about a mile from the Boardwalk and near UC Santa Cruz and Mission Street, said that the city tends to be a destination for people who live within a few hours a way.

“We always used the expression that, ‘If you can get there and back on a half-tank of gas, then let’s go.’ We’ve got quite a few communities within a half-tank of gas of us that are very [interested in Santa Cruz].”

While many of the visitors to Santa Cruz this summer live within a half-tank radius, local business owners, hoteliers and restauraunt employees noticed that fewer of them stayed overnight, creating a loss in total summer revenue.

“We do have a very strong market in terms of day-trippers,” said Christina Glynn, communications director for the CVC. “The challenge is encouraging them to stay overnight. Those reductions have a trickle-down effect and they will also [lead to] reductions in spending in the community.”

This year’s summertime decrease in business was detrimental enough to cause shops like Central Coast Running and Super Silver, formerly housed further from tourist thoroughfares, to reevaluate their locations.

“I needed to move somewhere downtown or I was going to cease to exist,” said Adam Boothe, owner of Central Coast Running. “With the drop-off in the economy, I needed to be somewhere more visible.”

Many businesses experimented this summer with different hours, lower prices and special offers to get visitors in their doors.

Surfrider Café, which opened in February, was one of many businesses that offered its patrons coupons for the Boardwalk this summer. Kris Reyes, community relations director for the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which owns the Boardwalk, said that such coupons have proven to be a great success for the both parties involved.

“One of the things we saw this year was a growth in our discount offers because people were so value-conscious, probably more so than in years past,” Reyes said.

Unfortunately, although business at the Boardwalk was steady this past season, value-conscious visitors failed to produce a sizable amount of revenue at nearby hotels like the Patel’s Super 8.

“The challenge is going to be the slow season,” Patel said of the upcoming fall and winter months. “[The question] will be: ‘How slow does it get?’ If it gets really slow then it’s a cause for worry. But if we’re down like summer — 20 or 30 percent — I think we’ll survive. We’re just hoping that it’s going to pick up next year.”

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz County saw its GDP decline for the second year in a row in 2008, making a pick-up in business a major question for 2010. But the Patels — and many other business owners — remain optimistic.

“You can’t take the ocean away, so more people [will always] like to come here,” Sunni said. “We are very lucky. It’s a great paradise we live in.”