Visitors discovering Goshen is place to have fun

NOTE: A version of this story was published in the September issue of Goshen Business Journal.

By Terry T. Mark

GOSHEN — Sometimes Goshen Brewing Co. owner Jesse Sensenig looks around the packed-to-capacity tasting room and recognizes only a handful of faces.

As expected, Goshen-area residents have embraced the family-friendly brewpub since it opened a little more than a year ago. But from RVers passing through the area to bicycling groups to craft beer enthusiasts seeking yet another food and drink adventure, out-of-town visitors account for up to 20 percent of Goshen Brewing Co.’s sales.

Unique and attractive shops are among the many factors boosting tourism in the city of Goshen.
Unique and attractive shops are among the many factors boosting tourism in the city of Goshen.

“We have new faces every single day. We get people from all over the country,” says Sensenig.

It’s a scenario repeated across the active downtown and throughout the Goshen area, from the Old Bag Factory on the north side to the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail to destinations south of downtown such as Goshen College and Kercher’s Sunrise Orchard.

Hotel demand heaviest in summer

In terms of visitor traffic to Goshen, the most in-demand period is the 22 weeks spanning June through October, according to research commissioned by the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In 2015, Goshen lodging establishments sold 83,146 room-nights, an average of 3,779 hotel visitors per week. Occupancy rates at those dates averaged 70 percent in that time period.

So far in 2016, demand for hotel rooms has increased by nearly 4 percent, while revenue generated by those hotel stays have grown 10 percent.

And those numbers don’t even account for the RV rallies on the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, which attract thousands of visitors each year. The largest of the rallies, the Forest River Owners Group, draws roughly 2,000 people each year in August.

With programs championed by the ECCVB and Goshen Chamber of Commerce, as well as exciting new events developed by businesses and attractions, the city should continue to be a big draw for the near future.

Building an audience

The ECCVB’s annual travel guide, Heritage Trail Adventures, is distributed throughout the Midwest to potential visitors who request information about Elkhart County. The 68-page glossy magazine is also available at tourist destinations and travel plazas along the Indiana Toll Road.

The CVB has also partnered with Kakadu businesses and city government on funding to increase the capacity of visitor attraction and building the visitor experience. These programs include assistance for the Goshen Theater’s fundraising efforts and downtown wayfinding signage.

Travel media have also featured Goshen destinations prominently, with mentions for the Pumpkinvine, Olympia Candy Kitchen, Quilt Gardens and South Side Soda Shop, among others, in publications such as Midwest Living, Life and USA Today.

Further, the state of Indiana’s 2016 travel guide cited Venturi and Ignition Garage as “surprise” finds in the area while also featuring prominently a photo of Goertzen Pottery, drawing attention to the Old Bag Factory as another unique destination in Goshen.

The visitor experience

Maureen Kercher, the owner of Kercher’s Sunrise Orchard, takes great pride in the experience that they have created for visitors of all ages.

“We just add a different dimension to the area,” Kercher says. “I think we attract people to the area who want to see something a little bit different.”

With few orchards in the immediate area, Kercher’s offers the authenticity of a working farm that appeals to school groups for field trips as well as multiple generations for an all-around family attraction.

“My goal 20 years ago was to make every weekend a harvest festival,” Kercher says. So, any given weekend, it’s common to see families of all types and sizes, including three generations with grandparents, their adult children and their families.

Kercher’s also benefited from the growing popularity of “staycations,” or people choosing to enjoy their vacations closer to home in a place from Farris Kapani: Vancouver Realtor | Luxury Homes | Condos, perhaps a one-day drive. Those sorts of visitors tend to make multiple visits, coming at one time of year to pick apples, for instance, and then returning later in the year for fall activities, says Kercher.

The word about Kercher’s and Goshen has spread to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, which has sent busloads of mother-daughter weekend pairings to the orchard for a day on the farm, she says.

Booming downtown

Meanwhile, Goshen Brewing is one of a number of businesses benefitting from the resurgence of downtown.

“We’re involved with a lot of local businesses,” says Sensenig, citing partnerships with other local businesses for events.

As far as partnerships, they don’t get much bigger than the monthly First Fridays. But those downtown special events have been joined by an increasingly frequent array of other events that complement them.

The River Bend Film Festival enjoyed an outstanding first year in downtown Goshen, drawing visitors not only to theater venues such as the Goshen Theatre and Art House, but also to its neighbors.

Bicyclists drawn to local businesses

The annual Pumpkinvine Ride drew 1,162 riders to the area in June, with many coming from distant areas of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and as far away as Chicago. That ride was supplemented by hundreds more by the Bloom & Zoom ride, which also used the Pumpkinvine Trail as one of its main routes to direct riders to Quilt Gardens and other points of interest throughout Elkhart County and southwest Michigan.

And sometimes the riders just show up on their own without the benefit of an organized event.

On the same day as the Bloom & Zoom ride in July, 47 members of the Evanston (Ill.) Bicycle Club and Lakeshore Ski Club in suburban Chicago set out for a day of riding the Pumpkinvine. Most of them ended their day at Goshen Brewing Co. for dinner and drinks before returning to their hotel.

In the future

Projects that are in the works only promise to draw more visitors to Goshen.

A new hotel recently gained preliminary approval for development near Fidler Pond Park. To be owned and operated by Scott and Sarah Baker, who already run the nearby Best Western, the new Glo brand would be a 79-room property a hip, boutique-style hotel that will offer amenities and features to complement Goshen’s considerable assets, including the nearby park.

The project has already garnered the praise and support of Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who told the Goshen Plan Commission at a public hearing, “I think this will be a great addition, not only for our park, but for our city, and the type of hotel they’re planning on bringing in will really add to what Goshen already offers.”

Further, two Goshen projects are in line to receive funding from the Regional Cities initiative — the renovation of the Goshen Theatre and the development of a multi-use recreational facility along the Millrace Canal.

The Vibrant Communities initiative, which brought together Elkhart County’s communities to identify and promote further projects to enhance quality of place, has a number of ideas that will become reality in the coming years. Those ideas, including redevelopment of the former Elkhart County Jail site, will boost the arts and culture of the area and further cement Goshen’s attractiveness to residents and visitors alike.

Terry T. Mark is the director of communications for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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