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You couldn’t get a room in Tuggle’s Gap.
The Tuggle’s Gap Roadside Inn, a cozy 10-room motel located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, was booked solid for late July. Rooms sold out in 48 hours after FloydFest organizers announced that the music festival would be held July 26-30 on a new site in northern Floyd County.
“We sold out at a great rate with a three-night minimum,” said Nick Bineck, who bought the 1930s-era motel, restaurant and gas station two years ago. “It was going to be a very good week for us.”
Then, FloydFest got canceled.
Organizers of the sprawling, multi-day music festival billed as FloydFest 2023 Forever pulled the plug on this year’s event due to environmental concerns and failure to get permits to construct roads and bridges on the 200-acre property just off U.S. 221 near the community of Check. The festival, which annually attracted up to 15,000 people during the 20 years it was held on a Patrick County site just off the parkway, was canceled April 5, as organizers continued to work with the Department of Environmental Quality in hopes of bringing FloydFest to the new site next year.
The cancellation isn’t expected to deal a major economic blow to Floyd County, local business owners and county officials say, but some businesses will feel the impact more than others. Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and lodging will bear the brunt of the cancellation.
“That was the biggest week we had projected,” Bineck said.
Much of FloydFest’s economic activity is self-contained at the festival itself, where people can eat, drink and even sleep on site. Even so, a lot of dollars are spent off-site by festival-goers who stop in the town of Floyd to buy meals, drinks and other products available at a number of locally owned shops in a downtown that is remarkably vibrant for a one-stoplight locale.
Across-the-Way Productions, Inc., the company that runs FloydFest, released an economic impact study two years ago that determined the festival brings about $4 million in spending to Floyd, Patrick and some neighboring counties.
“Even the small piece of the pie that’s left in the county is important,” Bineck said of FloydFest’s economic impact.
Lydeana Martin, Floyd County’s Community and Economic Development Director, echoed those sentiments. She pointed out that many on-site vendors are local businesses and artists, and that regional nonprofit groups, which include Rotary clubs, scout troops and church youth groups, hold fundraisers at FloydFest. The festival’s organizers also donate thousands of dollars to charitable groups.
“The nonprofits always do well, and that’s huge in a small community like Floyd,” Martin said.
FloydFest also has served as a proving ground for some local businesses that got their start selling products at the festival before opening brick-and-mortar stores. Some Floyd businesses, such as Dogtown Roadhouse restaurant and music venue and Red Rooster Coffee, have large presences at the festival, which helps them make money to get through winter months when business in town slows down.
“FloydFest has been a terrific proving ground for small businesses here,” Martin said. “They can test products and messages to a large, diverse audience. They might serve more people in one weekend than they will in a whole year.”
FloydFest is what brought Bineck to the region and inspired him to buy the Tuggle’s Gap motel. Bineck, 40, worked as a stage manager at FloydFest and later with Stage Sound, the Roanoke company that handles sound and lighting for the festival, before deciding to buy the venerable gas station, motor lodge and pine-paneled restaurant two years ago. FloydFest introduced him to the business potential the region offered.
“I had worked in small hotels in Fredericksburg when I was younger,” Bineck said. “I worked in the music industry a long time, but my passion was hotels. This place was for sale for a year during the pandemic. We’ve remodeled every room and really done right by the place.”
Kamala Bauers and her husband, Jack Wall, opened Hotel Floyd in 2007, just a few steps from Locust Street, where downtown Floyd pulses with bluegrass musicians, outdoor concerts and rock ’n’ roll bands during the weekends. FloydFest week is one of her most lucrative of the year because guests pack the 40-room hotel at a premium rate, but she is confident her business, the town and the county will withstand the economic hit caused by the festival’s cancellation.
“We’re totally booked for FloydFest the day the tickets go on sale,” Bauers said. “People stay here for one festival, then they reserve rooms as soon as they find out when the next one will be. On the day the tickets are released, whatever rooms we have left are gone. We’ve had some cancellations [since FloydFest’s announcement], but I’m not worried. I think we’ll be 100 percent full that weekend.”
She will lose a 10 percent premium she charges during FloydFest week, she said, but that loss is negligible.
“We’ll just go back to our normal rates,” she said. “Floyd has gotten so popular. There is so much demand for lodging in Floyd right now.”
A quick scan of rooms available on Airbnb.com reveals no fewer than 30 places in and around Floyd, from houses to cabins to yurts, with some of those venues offering multiple beds at rates from $63 to $298.
Tourism has become a sizable part of Floyd County’s economy, with visitors spending around $26 million annually, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation. That’s up 18 percent over a 5-year period. FloydFest certainly helps boost some of that visitor spending, but the county also generates its own tourism economy through an eclectic mix of entertainment and shopping options.
The sidewalks outside the Floyd Country Store are filled with bluegrass and old-time mountain music pickers who come to hear and play music every weekend, especially during the weekly Friday Night Jamboree. The store draws hundreds of people for its weekly schedule of concerts and dances held inside the 113-year-old structure that includes a café and ice cream parlor.
Heather Krantz, who owns the store with her husband, Dylan Locke, is confident that the store and the rest of downtown Floyd will still be filled in July, despite FloydFest’s cancellation. She said that she and Locke were looking forward to the festival’s new location about 12 miles north of the store — which was roughly the same distance as the old festival site along the parkway, but along a direct route from Roanoke to Floyd.
“We were excited about the change of location and what it might mean for the county,” Krantz said. “We had talked to them about partnering in different ways. We’re aligned with FloydFest in the way that we’re all big believers in building community through music and dance.”
That said, town officials expect Floyd will be packed with visitors, despite the cancellation.
“Summer is very busy in Floyd,” town manager Andrew Morris said. “Folks really look forward to FloydFest, because we do see more people in town during the week, and we see some revenue off meals and lodging. But we have a lot of events through the summer that keep people coming in. Even this week, in the middle of April, the town is loaded with people.”
Some business owners have discussed scheduling additional concerts and other events during the week when FloydFest was scheduled, according to Bineck, but those details have not been worked out.
Even though many business owners expect the economic fallout from the festival’s cancellation to be manageable, many of them hope organizers can work with state officials to mitigate the environmental concerns on the property, and they look forward to when the festival takes place again. Bauers, who owns Hotel Floyd, is one of those.
“We totally stand by FloydFest,” she said.