Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney’s Million Dollar Holiday

Whatever the groundhog predicts, the Pennsylvania town's economy will benefit

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Groundhog co-handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil in front of a record crowd estimated at 35,000 after Phil's annual weather prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 127th Groundhog Day, February 2, 2013.

For most of us, Groundhog Day is a quirky little event that commands a few moments of our attention as we dream of a warmer spring to come. But for citizens of Punxsutawney, PA., Feb 2. is a major holiday, and one that helps support the economy for the borough of 5,500 people and the entire region.

Indeed, according to the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau and the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, the event brings in over $1 million to the local economy every year. “The economic impact Pennsylvania’s most unique holiday has on the town of Punxsutawney and surrounding communities is astounding,” says Kelly Walker, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Tourism Bureau.

Walker says that because this year’s Groundhog Day falls on a Sunday, the effects will be even greater. The Pennsylvania Tourism Bureau estimates that approximately 20,000-25,000 visitors will descend on the town this weekend to see if “Punxsutawney Phil” will spy his shadow, filling the hotels, restaurants and shops of the town and surrounding area. The bureau says that the average visitor spends $200 on lodging, food, gas and souvenirs during their stay, meaning that tourists could bring in as much as $5 million to the local economy.

The most immediate effect is on the lodging business. According to Walker, there are 600 hotel rooms in Jefferson County, where Punxsutawney is located, and another 2,000 in neighboring counties — all of which are booked solid.

Retailers and restaurants benefit greatly, too. According to a recent report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, eateries like Punxy Phil’s Cakes & Steaks scramble to find room for the influx of guests. This year, the restaurant is setting up tents in the parking lot. “If there are 50 customers on a regular shift, there are five times that on Groundhog Day,’’  waitress Jordan Knox, told the Post-Gazette.

And the economic effects aren’t just limited to Feb. 2. For many visitors, the Groundhog Day holiday is a days-long celebration, especially when the special day lands on a weekend like this year. “Many visitors come in early to be a part of all of the festivities leading up to the prognostication, which begin this year on Friday.” says Walker.

The lasting popularity of the 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney but filmed in Woodstock, Ill., has done much to boost the event’s popularity.  At points in the 1970s, attendance dropped down to the low double digits. But ever since the film’s release twenty-one years ago, tens of thousands of visitors have come annually to see whether the groundhog will forecast six more weeks of winter, or herald an early spring.

It’s also helped make Punxsutawney an international destination year-round, Michelle Neal of the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce told the Post-Gazette. “It’s not for just one day,’’ Ms. Neal noted. “I have emails from England and Germany asking about visits this summer.’’