It was with great delight that I picked up Saturday’s Wall Street Journal and found a half-page spread on Eureka Springs. The article appeared in a special section on retirement planning and living.
Eureka Springs simply could not have received better publicity than this. This article will be read by exactly the kind of people the town should be targeting — well-educated, well-traveled, wealthy, sophisticated, nearing retirement age.
Like many Arkansans, I’ve often found myself frustrated with Eureka Springs and its leadership (or lack thereof). I just never felt that Eureka Springs had lived up to its potential as a nationally recognized tourism destination. It seemed there was always a fight brewing — the mayor was fighting with members of the city council, the business owners up on the highway were fighting with the business owners downtown, etc., etc.
I would say to myself: “The boom that occurred in Branson should have occurred in Eureka Springs. All of that tax revenue could have gone to our state.”
As I have grown older, however, my position has changed. I now find myself saying: “Thank goodness that the boom that occurred in Branson didn’t occur in Eureka Springs. All of that traffic, all of those music theaters with faux patriotic themes and all of those outlet malls would have ruined the place. Eureka Springs is authentic, not manufactured to attract tour buses filled with elderly folks from Illinois.”
And I now think the infighting is part of the eclectic charm of the place they used to call Little Switzerland.
Still, as Eureka Springs further defines itself, its best niches will be:
1. Well-to-do couples who travel there to enjoy its spas, restaurants and art galleries. After all, Eureka Springs has a 125-year tradition of providing mineral baths and steam treatments. Spa services have expanded in the past decade, and that’s a trend that needs to continue. The spas must become even more upscale to reach this demographic. Eureka Springs also needs to continue to increase the size of its artisan community and become one of the top arts and cultural destinations in the region.
2. Retirees. They will bring their talents and their volunteer spirit. They will drive up home values. They will provide a source of income for restaurants and shops in the months when tourism lags.
There always will be a place for the motorcycle enthusiasts driving through the Ozarks and the church groups in town to see the Great Passion Play. But an even brighter future could rest on well-to-do older couples who come to visit and later decide to stay.
The Wall Street Journal article is aimed at those very couples. It tells the story of Steven Hudson and his wife, Patsy, who decided to move out of the New Orleans area when they retired. They were looking for a place on the water that was far enough inland to avoid hurricanes. They wanted hills or mountains and a four-season climate.
“The beauty of the area fascinates us,” Steven Hudson says. “There is a true sense of community here. Everybody is very friendly.”
The article also tells the story of Jaci and Robert Lang, who retired to Eureka Springs from their home near Chicago. Then there are Tom and Fran Carlin, who moved to Eureka Springs from San Diego. Fran Carlin is an artist specializing in mosaics who works out of a studio in her home.
The writer of the article, Ann Carrns, describes Eureka Springs as a town “noted for its well-preserved Victorian buildings, frequent festivals and active arts community. … Eureka Springs now claims some 200 working artists who work in varied media and display their creations in 20 local galleries. … And from spring through fall, there are almost weekly festivals on themes as varied as blues music, gay pride, Native Americans and remote-controlled airplanes.”
It’s just the sort of article those who love Eureka Springs should hope for. And, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, it’s reaching the proper demographic.
A trio of questions for you:
1. Where’s your favorite place to stay in Eureka Springs? It can be a bed-and-breakfast inn, a hotel or a motel. Just don’t say “in my car while parked on Spring Street.”
2. What’s your favorite restaurant in Eureka Springs and why? What do you order when you are there?
3. If I were to choose a spa in Eureka Springs, which one should I choose?