Polar Express draws 12,600

Most Williams businesses reported little if any increase in sales last month, despite the nearly 12,600 people who came to ride the Polar Express.

“Most of the larger hotels, they all did great,” said Donna Eastman-Cochran, president of the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce. “They’re all up for the year and are pretty happy with everything the Polar Express brought to town.”

The Fray Marcos hotel, operated by the Grand Canyon Railway spent most of December sold out, said spokesman Jerry Thull.

“It surpasses our expectations every time,” he said.

The railway has already announced it will bring The Polar Express back to Williams next year and will add an extra day, the Monday before Christmas, to the schedule.

“It will definitely be here next year,” said Thull.

But if sales figures are any indication, not many of the 12,587 passengers ventured downtown while in Williams.

“The smaller hotels that are kind of the downtown ones didn’t get any new business from it,” Cochran said. “No one really stayed in the downtown hotels.”

Retailers reported little change from the attraction, she said.

“I’m not getting any response from the retailers that did any extra business because of the Polar Express,” she said. “Which surprises me.”

If retailers took better advantage of the added sales opportunities, Cochran said, those figures could turn around.

“We need to put together a whole package that all of our retailers participate in,” she said. “We really haven’t been doing that.”

Creating promotional campaigns to capitalize on events such as The Polar Express is something Cochran says she hopes the Williams Main Street program can take charge of.

Area restaurants also did not see an increase during the event, Cochran said.

Kevin Kennelly, co-owner of Cruiser’s Café in Williams, agreed. He said he noticed no marked increase during The Polar Express, at least nothing compared to the increase his restaurant saw during the Thomas the Tank Engine event held over the summer.

This marked the second year for The Polar Express. The Grand Canyon Railway expanded this season’s schedule after last year’s success to include two trains per evening during three weekends in December.

The Polar Express takes children and parents on a one-hour train ride mimicking the Christmas tale written by Chris Van Allsburg. During the ride, the story is read to children while they enjoyed cookies and hot cocoa while the train heads for “The North Pole.”

Santa Claus boarded the train and visited with children during the return trip.

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