TOMBSTONE — Creek Bonner, a 5-year-old from Phoenix, saves his best jeans for family trips to Tombstone. On Saturday the young cowboy, proudly showed off those jeans and his stick pony, Señor Carrots, to “The Town Too Tough to Die.”
“I like dressing up,” Creek said in his cowboy attire and marshal badge. “I like everything (about Tombstone).”
Michelle Bonner, Creek’s mother, said the family visits Tombstone at least four times a year and were happy to return Saturday for the “Tombstone Welcomes You Back” event going on through Sunday.
“We’re so happy to be back,” she said. “I know (Tombstone relies) on tourism, so I’m happy they’ve opened.”
Wyatt Earp Days were supposed to take place this Memorial Day, but COVID-19 washed that away with the uncertainty during the early stages of the pandemic. But after Governor Doug Ducey allowed business to open their doors again on May 8, the Tombstone Vigilettes and the local business teamed up to have a welcome back to Tombstone celebration.
“A lot of us have been coming the last couple of weekends (in Victorian Era dresses) ... to encourage business owners that stayed open,” said Vigilette Sue Simons. “It feels good to come back for an event and seeing all the people here this weekend.”
The event features a total of six raffles; three on Saturday and three on Sunday. Everyone who comes to town gets a free ticket from the Vigilettes. More tickets can be collected from participating business, with one given out for every $25 spent. The goal was to draw people to town and shop to help local business that had been closed because of Ducey’s orders.
For nearly two months, the town that relies on tourism saw little foot traffic down the famous Allen Street, as only three eateries were open for take out.
“It was just devastating,” said Jeanie Andrada, one of the owners of Mario’s Bakery. “It just broke my heart when everything was closed.”
Andrada and her partner kept the bakery open throughout the closures by creating a take-out window. She said they took a hit financially because people were staying inside, but the first week in April was the toughest since people were struggling financially. However, after people started receiving their stimulus checks, she said they saw a bit more business.
Susan Wallace, Tombstone business owner and president of the town’s chamber of commerce, echoed the sentiments of Andrada. She said they laid off most of their employees since they couldn’t pay them and started a private Facebook group for them so they could support one another.
Wallace said on Friday they are slowly bringing back their employees now that the doors are open and will continue to do so as time goes on.
“It’s been slow but steady,” she said. “We have received a lot of messages and support from people all over the world who enjoy Tombstone.”
Sylvia Loza was a frequent visitor to Tombstone before the closure, as she like to escape to the town to get away from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix. She said her and her husband usually visit Tombstone every two months, and the last time they were in the county was on March 8.
“When I booked my room last week I didn’t even realize it was a three-day weekend,” Loza said. “We tying to enjoy everything that’s open. I’m happy they’re open again.”
The weekend’s “Tombstone Welcomes you Back” event was to show unity amongst business owners and the town that they are ready to see their visitors and guests faces once again. Signs were posted outside some businesses asking customers to respect social distancing while shopping, as well as other safety precautions.
“There’s a new spirit in town,” Andrada said. “It’s really nice to see everyone.”
Saturday saw visitors from across the state and the country. Mary Lou Sweet said she made the trip from Apache Junction for the first time in six years.
“We love Tombstone,” she said. “We did a day trip the last time, but it wasn’t enough so we’re here for the weekend.”
Jessica Tarpley and her family used the long weekend for a vacation from California. She they made a one-day stop to explore Tombstone because the eponymous movie is her husband’s favorite, so they came to see it in person. They said they had no hesitations about traveling were glad they made the trip.
The process for normalcy will take time, but Wallace knows Tombstone will make it though.
“Closing Tombstone was surreal,” she said. “I know we will come back, because we are ‘The Town too Tough to Die.’”