Trends show area residents seeking less expensive entertainment

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Cindy Hamer and her daughter Katie Hamer took in a day at the Hillcrest Zoo while in the process of moving the family from Grand Falls, Texas to Clovis.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The latest trend in local entertainment may be a sign of the economic times.

Whether people are strapped for cash and seeking less expensive forms of entertainment or just seeking a release from the stress of everyday life, area programs are seeing new trends in what people do for fun.

Free and inexpensive activities like the library, zoo and community recreation center are seeing an increase in traffic, and even headline entertainment promoted by the Clovis Community College Cultural Arts Series is seeing packed houses of late.

“When we go through times of depression and recession, people turn to entertainment. The movie business did really well during the 30’s (because) people find refuge in this type of industry — in entertainment,” said Christy Mendoza, Cultural Arts director at CCC.

Last week’s presentation of the Broadway musical Bye-Bye Birdie had record attendance and previous shows and concerts also had increased attendance, Mendoza said.

Though eastern New Mexico hasn’t been hit as hard financially as other areas of the country, Mendoza speculated that people are still being cautious and looking for things to do that are closer to home and cost less.

“I think people are turning to simpler things to entertain them… people are tending to probably try and save some money,” she said. “And we’re providing the same type of entertainment you’re finding in other cities but our price tag is pretty low.”

Stephanie Spencer, CCC’s director of resource development said tickets to Cultural Arts Series events average $15 to $20, while tickets to the same concerts and plays sometimes run triple that in larger cities.

“I think that in these challenging times, people still need a release and I believe the performing arts provide that,” Spencer said.

The low price tag at the zoo — $2 for adults and $1 for children over 2-years old — may be attracting crowds too.

Director Herschel Arnold said as of February – seven months into their budget year – attendance figures are up by almost 2,000 paying customers over the same period last year.

From July 2007 to June 2008, 20,400 people paid admission to the zoo. Since July this year, 22,300 have already visited.

Arnold said zoo staff work hard to continually improve the park and make the visit more fun. Arnold said he would like to think those improvements helped with the increase, “(But) the economy may be affecting (the rise in attendance). We’re fairly low priced and it’s something the whole family can do.”

And free seems to be attracting people, too.

Librarian Viviane Grimes said crowds at the library are growing as people take advantage of free internet access, books, videos, exhibits and programs for adults and children.

“We have been quite a lot busier in the last couple of months… I think it does have at least a little bit to do with the economy,” Grimes said, noting the library has added some programs and attractive traveling exhibits.

Ruben Gonzales, director of Roy Walker Community Center, said the center’s gyms and weightrooms seem to be busier in the last few months. There has also been a marked increase in senior olympics participation.

Whether it’s directly tied to tighter purse strings, or something else, Gonzales said he can’t be sure, but, “I would think that when your dollar doesn’t go as far, and we all still like recreation, we all just find ways to do things in the least expensive manner.”