Well, they’re gone again.
In case you’re not from Wickenburg and don’t know what Wickenburg is all about, I’m referring to the “Snowbirds,” or what the politically correct here in town prefer to call “Winter Visitors.”
They start arriving in November and, by the second week in January, are all in town. They live mostly in the 55+ communities and condos like Frontier Village (conveniently located near Basha’s, where they prefer to shop), although some of the more well-to-do retirees have homes in the same neighborhoods the rest of us live in. A few of the very well-to-do folks inhabit the hilltop residences sprinkled on the east side of the Hassayampa and along the ridge east of Turtleback Mountain. Well, they inhabit those homes for at least a few weeks, anyway. Those folks also have winter homes in more interesting places than Wickenburg.
Throughout the winter, they drive the roads of town, shop in the supermarkets (where they invariably block aisles with their shopping carts to chat about things back in Minnesota with friends), complain about gas prices, stand in line in the post office, and make weekly pilgrimages to Wal-Mart and Luby’s cafeteria in Surprise and Sun City. They make driving hazardous because there’s so many of them and a few really shouldn’t be licensed drivers. Being on fixed incomes, they’re bargain hunters, so they keep the prices of restaurant meals and groceries down within reach. Unfortunately, since they won’t buy higher-priced merchandise — like veal, fresh mozzarella cheese, or haute cuisine — it simply isn’t offered in town, requiring those of us who want it to make pilgrimages to places like AJ’s Fine Foods or Scottsdale restaurants to get it.
The population in Wickenburg doubles in the winter time because of the influx of these Snowbirds. But suddenly, by the beginning of May, they’re all gone. The traffic disappears and driving becomes safer. Supermarket aisles become easier to navigate with a shopping cart. The hoopla about gas prices, which seems to fill at least a page of the weekly newspaper, fades away. The post office lines become a dim memory. And even the traffic between Wickenburg and Surprise thins out.
Then things start to get weird. Restaurants and other businesses close for the season. Other businesses seem to adopt “summer hours” that may or may not be posted or consistent from one week to the next. Other businesses that struggled for survival when so many potential customers were in town fold up and vanish, leaving “For Rent” signs on the spaces they occupied.
I’ll admit it: I don’t particularly care for the Snowbirds. They disrupt life here in Wickenburg. They give businesspeople who don’t know better a false sense of economic prosperity. They make Wickenburg a seasonal, low-budget town that offers a limited variety of goods and services for only part of the year. They make it impossible for Wickenburg to move beyond its current economic status, to offer the goods and services that people who have money — and spend it — need to maintain their lifestyles.
The powers-that-be here in town will argue that the Snowbirds are an important part of the town’s economic base. But it’s thinking like that — that Wickenburg is a seasonal tourist town — that will prevent Wickenburg from ever becoming more than just a place for Snowbirds from the midwest to spend their winters.
I’ve been here for seven years now and I’m ready for more.