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Local shops report success from American Queen

Tourists board a bus wrapped in an image of the American Queen Steamboat for their tours on April 16, the first day in nearly five years the steamboat docked in Natchez. The bus and several others like it transported boat passengers around Natchez, stopping multiple times and allowing passengers to visit shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. (Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — More than 800 guests stepped off the American Queen to visit Natchez in April, and local business owners were waiting with open arms.

Steamboat passengers accepted the invitation and responded with cash, check and credit card.

“I blew (a normal day) out of the water,” said Ricky Smith of Natchez Antiques. “I was more than pleased. Those type of people appreciate antiques, and they are looking for fine things.”

The American Queen docked on April 16 and 22, and passengers spent approximately eight hours in town.

Some passengers participated in pre-planned tours, others explored on their own.

Several American Queen buses — designed to look like the actual boat — circled downtown and a portion of John R. Junkin Drive all day long in a loop. Passengers were encouraged to get off at one of many stops and hop back on later.

The April stops were the first visit by a steamboat of any kind in nearly five years.

“When the boats quit running it was a tremendous impact to downtown Natchez,” Smith said. “I opened 22 years ago and every time the boat was here, it was a good day.”

He’s happy, now, to have at least one of the three former steamboats back.

“I was ecstatic (about the boat coming back),” he said. “That’s probably the biggest impact to downtown Natchez money wise. I am sorry there is just one boat left, but we have to take what we can get.”

At one time the American Queen, Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen docked in Natchez.

Old South Trading Post owner Jonathan Wood said his store also saw a boost from visitors when the American Queen was in town, and his goal is to get them back to Natchez for a return trip.

“We started in business when all three boats were running,” he said. “It appears that when passengers have a positive experience in a city they will come back again.

“It’s the best form of advertising for a city when a tourist can come whet their appetite on a short trip. It’s an opportunity that presents itself for a long-term investment.”