Almost a month has gone by since Mount Airy native son Andy Griffith died on July 3, and while some speculated that tourism would dry up with his passing, tourism authorities say that just isn’t the case.
Betty Ann Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said in the wake of Griffith’s death, calls and cards expressing sympathy have poured in to the visitors center.
“I felt like people needed to feel close to him,” said Collins.
She said while the numbers of visitors for July haven’t been calculated yet, she can tell by talking to the staff that it has been busy month.
She feels that tourism to this area will not be negatively affected by Griffith dying because people are continuing to search for what Mount Airy, and Mayberry provides — simple, easy living.
“Mayberry is a state of mind. This is a place where people can feel safe and welcomed,” said Collins.
Steve Martin, tourism specialist with the chamber, said that he is spending more time with visitors who have a lot of questions about Griffith.
Esther Johnson, tourism specialist with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said this time of year is a busy time for tourism anyway, but she feels like there have been more tourists visiting since Griffith died.
“Andy was so well loved. Everybody is looking for Mayberry,” said Johnson.
Debbie Miles, owner of Mayberry on Main, said that she has noticed business picking up since Griffith died.
“It has been busy. I think with all of the publicity people have figured out that this was his hometown. I think a lot more people are staying over since then,” said Miles.
Her store now features an Andy Griffith tribute shirt.
Mandilee Morange of Bradenton, Fla., has been looking forward to her trip to Mount Airy since she decided to write a book in October. Her parents, Rick and Marilyn Morange, said her visit to Mount Airy on Tuesday was a special treat for their daughter, who is turning 13 today.
Morange said she wanted to pick a special place in which to set her science fiction book about a dinosaur egg.
“It’s a big awesome tale about peace, hope and love,” said Morange.
She said she couldn’t get over how friendly everyone in Mount Airy has been to her.
“This is the friendliest city in my book,” said Morange.
Randy Shur at Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies said he was surprised when after Griffith died he started getting phone calls from all over from people expressing their condolences.
At the Surry Arts Council, Executive Director Tanya Jones said the past month has been the busiest she’s seen for the Andy Griffith Museum. For the month of July, there were 10,000 visitors. She said the first year the museum was open in 2010, there were 55,000 visitors, and in 2011, there were 40,000 visitors.
“So to get that many visitors in one month is huge,” said Jones.
Jones shared Miles’ opinion that publicity surrounding Griffith’s death has brought an awareness to the area that has subsequently increase the number of visitors here.
She said on Tuesday, the arts council took in its largest ever online sale of Mayberry Days tickets to a tour group in Wisconsin. She thinks this year’s Mayberry Days will be well attended. She is gauging that on ticket sales. She said, for example, she is already selling tickets for Professor Neil Brower’s Lecture and the guest speaker hasn’t even been announced.
“Sales are already ahead of last year,” said Jones.
Reach Mondee Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1930.