5 Industries Banking on Your Columbus Day Weekend

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Of all the long-weekend holidays on the calendar, Columbus Day may be the one that means the least to businesses and even less to the average U.S. worker.

Our own Dana Blankenhorn gets into the political debate surrounding the day and the open/closed list -- which features a whole lot more businesses opened than closed. Yes, it's on the list of federal holidays, but just about the last thing federal workers are thinking about during the government shutdown that prompted their unpaid furlough is what they're going to do with some time off.

The stock markets are still open, most businesses are still open and everyone who's not celebrating their cultural tie to Columbus' voyage or protesting the effects of that trip on Native American populations can be forgiven for not realizing that there's anything noteworthy about what is otherwise a typical Monday. Even local governments have cut the day off as a budget item, while Tennessee decided last year to move its state employee's Columbus Day holiday to the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Its clout is shrinking, but Columbus Day still has enough pull to get both its proponents and detractors a day off. It may not have as broad a reach as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day or Labor Day, but any day that gives even a segment of the U.S. working population a paid day off has the potential to pay off for anyone who can pry those weary workers out of the house for a weekend.

We offer the following five corners of commerce as examples of exactly who is still relying on Columbus Day for a quick infusion of cash:

Vacation rentals

Between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving, you know what property owners who rent their vacation homes have going on? Nothing. Absolute zilch.

The days off are minimal to nonexistent, the holidays are limited to Halloween -- which doesn't require a whole lot of travel unless you're heading to the Greenwich Village parade in New York, Fantasy Fest in Key West, the witch-averse streets of Salem, Mass., or some other adult-oriented holiday haunt. Travelers' funds are usually recovering from summer travel just in time to go holiday shopping, and the will to pick up and go with the kids in school, football on television and temperatures dropping is often minimal.

Columbus Day weekend, however, gives property owners a bridge date between traditional holidays if they're lucky enough to draw renters with the day off. Vacation rental site Home Away ( AWAY), for example, dedicates an entire page to Columbus Day weekend getaways just to goose rentals a bit. Other sites including AirBnB and TripAdvisor ( TRIP) subsidiary FlipKey are also teeming with owners who consider that weekend and much of fall a low point between summer and ski season.

It's still a bit of a lull amid those two peak stretches and the holiday season, but any extra income a homeowner can get is a bonus. Embrace their desperation.

Leaf-peeping tourism

Leaf-peeping season isn't exactly a secret in hotbeds such as New England and the Great Smoky Mountains, but that's the way folks in those areas like it.

On a good year when the weather plays along and the colors are at their most vibrant, the number of leafers that come in on weekends can rival those of peak season. Few places know this better than Vermont, which employs its own leaf forecaster to keep visitors informed of where the best color can be found and when that color will reach its peak. In Central and Southern Vermont, that peak often coincides fortuitously with Columbus Day weekend.

All those folks eyeing the trees, renting cabins, buying syrup, eating cheese and drinking the local beer and cider aren't exactly cheapskates either. From 2003 to 2011, the last year for which such information was available, the number of fall visitors to Vermont jumped to 3.6 million from 2.8 million. The amount of cash they spent also jumped, to $460 million from $338 million.

What makes that growth particularly impressive is that it occurred regardless of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irene just before fall. Vermonters as a whole are fairly resilient, but it says a lot about the loyalty of its regular visitors that they stepped up, stayed and spent when the state needed them most.

City tourism

In certain corners of the country, that Columbus part of Columbus Day is still a huge deal.

In New York City, for example, 35,000 people still march in the city's Columbus Day Parade each year. Visitors still flood the city's Italian-American communities, where Columbus' Italian heritage is celebrated as (and debated, if you believe The Sopranos) as an extension of their own. Just about any parade in the city means huge business for surrounding street vendors, restaurants, shops, bars and other attractions, though.

The same holds true for San Francisco, where the Columbus Day Celebration and Italian Heritage Parade has taken place for more than 140 years. Denver hosts one of the largest Columbus Day parades in the country, while Boston's North End and Chicago hold their own marches. Miami even hosts a regatta for the occasion.

Again we'll note, however, that not everyone feels this is a day to be celebrated -- at least not for the reasons presented. As a counterweight to San Francisco's Columbus Day festivities, nearby Berkeley hosts Indigenous Peoples day -- giving its people the day off and hosting activities and events in recognition of Native Americans. Even San Francisco's Columbus Day visitors will get a reminder of the other side of the argument if they visit Alcatraz, which was occupied by Native American protesters from 1969 to 1971. Remnants of that occupation remain to this day.

In South Dakota, the state holiday that falls on Columbus Day is known as Native Americans Day. It still results in a day off, which would be great news this year for tourist-heavy Rapid City if the government ended its stalemate long enough to open Mount Rushmore to visitors. On that day, however, perhaps it would be better form to visit the nearby, non-federal Crazy Horse Memorial instead.


In the northern parts of the Lower 48 states, October and Columbus Day in particular mean a great deal to family farms and u-pick farms that rely on a cozy little niche of agritourism to get them through.

Call those u-pick orchards and pumpkin patches and sideshows such as hayrides, corn mazes, cider (cold and hot) and cider doughnuts trite if you'd like, but for some farms it's more than 80% of their revenue for the year.

To anyone who's waited until mid-October to pick bagfuls of Macouns, Romes, Cameos, Liberties or Fujis or to brave farm stands full of families to get their hands on a fresh fritter, there's no question where all that Columbus Day income is coming from or going.


Who's still holding Columbus Day sales? Oh, everybody.

Macy's ( M), Amazon ( AMZN), Sears ( AMZN) and more are dangling deals in front of shoppers and, in some cases, harried parents looking for some place to take the kids on their unexpected day off.

The occasional car dealer will look to clear out some 2013 vehicles to make room for 2014s, but more typically the deals have migrated to sites such as Dealsplus, FatWallet and Pinterest. With even Halloween looking like a retail fright fest this year, thanks largely to the government shutdown and the sluggish economy, even Columbus Day's draw might be somewhat limited this year.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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