(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: MARCH/APRIL 2006)
WHEN MY GRANDMA told her friends she was going to Branson, Missouri, they said things like, "See the fancy bathroom in the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre, " and "Bring comfortable shoes, Loraine. You’ll walk a lot. "
When I told my friends I was going to Branson, they said things like, "Why? "
Gen Xers tend to dismiss Branson, a place I’ve always associated with over-the-top shows seen by busloads of seniors; a cheesy chunk of neon plopped in the middle of Ozark country. It’s exactly this perception city marketers are hoping to shatter. Not because tourism numbers are down. More than 7 million people visit the city each year. It’s the future they’re trying to protect, since a mere 20 percent are first timers. "Once they come, people love Branson, " says Dan Lennon, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. "The challenge is that the people who aren’t coming have a limited view of what’s here. "
So, how did I answer my puzzled friends? "Because Grandma wants to go. Until now, Grandma has been content to stay near her Minnesota hometown, a peaceful and pretty little corner of the world. Then friends dazzled her with tales of the Live Music Show Capital of the World, a wholesome, neon-lit place where energetic, sequin-clad performers entertain from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. That, she decided, seemed like a neat place to visit.
The lady doesn’t ask for much. When pressed for gift ideas, she says things like, "I can always use stamps. " What kind of granddaughter would not grant her this?
It was settled. We’d go to Branson, and we’d go to shows. (I drew the line at any featuring performers in overalls and false teeth.) The prospect of quality time together was well worth the trip. Finding an attraction we were both into, that would just be a bonus.