Parents fuel Walla Walla economy during Family Weekend

Josh Goodman

Credit: Douglas
Credit: Douglas

Downtown Walla Walla hotels and restaurants are set to get an economic boost this Friday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 24, when parents of Whitman students come for Family Weekend.

Visiting parents, who book hotels and dine with their students, will bring business to sellout levels at several local establishments. That’s good news for the bottom line of hotels and restaurants in the middle of a recession and is even prompting some to hire additional staff for the weekend.

Ron Anderson, general manager of The Marcus Whitman Hotel, expects full occupancy this weekend, as opposed to an annual average of 65 to 70 percent. Three-quarters of the hotel’s guests will be Whitman families.

“The hotel industry in general has really been hit hard with the recession,” he said, noting that his hotel has been fortunate throughout the past year. “One of the reasons we do well with Whitman is because we’re the only full-service hotel [in Walla Walla] and the parents like to come with their sons and daughters and be in a full service hotel where they can have meals in the restaurants or go to our lounge.”

The extra business is also a boon for employees.

“We run full, so we’re always geared up, and there’s a whole bunch of people we employ who we hire because of the business we enjoy from Whitman,” Anderson said. “It definitely has a positive impact on our bottom line.”

The Walla Walla Vineyard Inn, located across the street from campus, will also see an increase in business this weekend, with Whitman parents comprising 90 percent of customers.

“We were overbooked on some of our rooms for a couple days, so thank goodness we had a couple of cancellations,” said Manager Dena Turner. “We’ll be close to 100 percent full instead of 60 percent or 65 percent.”

For Turner, the extra business will help with a project to renovate the hotel’s rooms.

“Eventually, it’s going to . . . allow us to do upgrades,” she said. “The hotel had nobody taking care of it [under the previous owner], and it kind of got neglected.”

Restaurants are also poised to benefit from Family Weekend, though the impact will be less than that on hotels.

“When we don’t have things like Parents Weekend, the percentage of Whitman students and parents is low,” said Dan Poitras, bar manager of the Mill Creek Brewpub, which is expecting two to three times as much Whitman-related traffic as normal. “Those weekends are definitely important to us.”

Though expecting extra customers, the restaurant will not significantly alter its management.

“We might bring on an extra server or something like that, [but] we’re usually prepared on weekends to handle whatever crowd,” said Poitras.

Tom Maccarone, owner of T. Maccarone’s, says weekends are always crowded, and Family Weekend is no exception.

“We’re packed every weekend,” he said. “If it weren’t Whitman parents’ weekend this weekend, we would be packed with tourists. We probably turned away 200 plus people [last] weekend alone, and there was nothing happening in Walla Walla.”

Maccarone said this coming weekend is almost entirely booked, with nearly every reservation being a Whitman family. Though he’s bringing in an extra employee to set up and bus tables for quick turnarounds, his business will be about the same, just with a different clientele.

“Whitman parents obviously know that it’s a crazy weekend and they make their reservations,” Maccarone said. “But the people coming to taste wine don’t know that, so it’s going to be an unfortunate weekend for them in finding places to have dinner.”