Williams, Arizona, burgeons with tourists and few storefront vacancies along its downtown Route 66 corridor these days. Yet it also battles with long-term problems.
The Arizona Daily Sun newspaper in nearby Flagstaff published a report on the renaissance of Williams and the challenges the Route 66 town still faces. You can read the whole thing here; the big takeaways are:
— Tourism is booming. The newspaper talked to a couple of longtime business owners who note Williams as recently as 15 years ago became quiet after 5 p.m. Nowadays, many of the bars, restaurants and souvenir shops along Route 66 stay open late into the night. And the tourism off-season continues to shrink.
It shouldn’t be construed Williams’ economy was poor 15 years ago. Based on census data, Williams’ population bottomed out to about 2,200 sometime in the 1980s — likely about the time Interstate 40 bypassed the town after the town’s protracted legal battle against it. Since then, Williams’ population has risen by almost 1,000 residents, almost 40 percent.
— Route 66’s downtown, Bearizona and Grand Canyon Railway became the big draws. Williams always has benefited from tourists using the town as a base as they explore the Grand Canyon 60 miles north. But Williams has taken its tourism numbers to another level because of homegrown attractions.
— Lack of affordable housing remains a chronic issue. Because so many workers in Williams toil in the lower-paying, service-oriented tourism industry. few of them can afford an apartment there, much less a house. The city is aware of the problem and hope to draw more housing developers through streamlined permitting and other non-financial incentives.
Several other Route 66 towns have problems with housing, including Santa Rosa, New Mexico. And I’ve talked to prominent and well-informed residents of Santa Rosa and nearby Tucumcari who believe their towns should back off a bit on Route 66 tourism and try to attract employers that bring higher-paying jobs. But because tourism remains a vital revenue source, city fathers loathe to do that.
(Image of downtown Williams, Arizona, in 2015 by edmj via Flickr)