For Karen Aceves, owner of Aceves Old Town Basket & Rug Shop, October is typically the busiest month of the year, in part because the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta brings tourists from around the world to Old Town Albuquerque.
“We get so happy at Balloon Fiesta,” Aceves said. “You know, our mood just changes.”
In 2020, though, that isn’t going to happen since the Balloon Fiesta was canceled earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without the event, which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Albuquerque and had an economic impact of nearly $187 million last year, businesses like Aceves’ will be without the usual October boost after a uniquely challenging summer.
“Any time an event that brings in 750,000 people gets canceled, there is no question that that will have a very negative impact on the economy,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
The Balloon Fiesta’s impact on Albuquerque businesses extends well beyond the top-line numbers.
According to data from California-based small-business commerce data company Womply, Balloon Fiesta is typically the second-most lucrative week of the year for local businesses that rely on tourism – which range from art galleries to bars – second only to Mother’s Day week.
Brad Plothow, vice president of brand and communication for Womply, said arts and entertainment businesses, ranging from theme parks to performing-arts theaters, see a 194% increase in revenue on average during Balloon Fiesta.
Plothow, who looks at event data across the country using anonymized point-of-sale and payment data, said the fiesta’s impact on local business is comparable to events like Louisville’s Kentucky Derby or metro Phoenix’s Cactus League.
Plothow said while Balloon Fiesta lacks the national name recognition of those events, it makes up for it with its uniqueness and dedicated group of hobbyists from around the country.
“I can’t think of another event that would replace this,” Plothow said.
The cancellation has been particularly hard on Old Town businesses, many of which rely heavily on tourists.
Julie Brown – who offers history and ghost tours around Old Town and goes by the moniker “Old Town Julie Brown” – said October provides around 40% of her business in a typical year, due in part to the influx of tourists associated with the fiesta.
Expecting to lose that flow of visitors, Brown said she’s bracing for a challenging month in a year in which sales are already down significantly after a challenging spring and summer.
“October is the month that enables us to put some money in the bank and stay open for November, December, January, February,” Brown said.
Brown said she’s hopeful business from ghost tours around Halloween will help the operation recoup some of the losses later in the month.
While crowds won’t gather for mass ascensions as in years past, the city announced in September that it’s working to get balloons in the air for a new, smaller event dubbed Balloon Fall Fest.
While Aceves said this October won’t be the same without the full Balloon Fiesta, she added that she was thinking about getting out the store’s balloon-themed decorations to capture a small part of the feeling.
“You know, have a fiesta with the Fiesta,” Aceves said, laughing.