(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about “snowbirds” in the Valley of the Sun).
According to a study from Arizona State University, an estimated 3,000 or more “snowbirds,” the retired individuals who migrate from upper North America to the warmer regions in the winter, flock to Arizona cities each year. While it’s evident that snowbirds are abundant in many Arizona cities, there is little research to suggest whether they have a large presence in the East Valley.
Depending on with whom you speak, you will receive a variety of answers on the existence of East Valley snowbirds in the summer. When inquiring with large chain businesses, like Dunkin’ Donuts and Ross, the consensus was that there was not a noticeable amount of difference in the business produced by seniors during the summer.
However, an associate at a Costco in Gilbert had the following to say, “Now that you mention it, I do (notice fewer people during the summer). I wouldn’t have noticed it before though. It’s subtle.” Similarly, a Wal-Mart in Mesa confessed a drop in the number of seniors during the summer months but not enough to create a substantial loss of business.
Businesses in Ahwatukee that are primarily populated with the older population are harder hit by the exodus of snowbirds every summer. Whirlwind Golf Club commented that its business goes down substantially during the summer, even as far 60 percent less players than in the winter. Terry Duggan, president of the Foothills Golf Club, agreed that the winter visitors are crucial, “Snowbirds are a huge percentage of business. The golf industry has become a very seasonal business; summers are very slow now compared to just seven years ago.”
The Pecos Senior Center reports that it typically sees an approximation of 15 snowbirds at its facilities during the winter time, but this number is slowly declining. Lillian De La Cruz, supervisor at the senior center, reports that as much as 10 percent of the northerners are not returning to the Ahwatukee area for the winter. De La Cruz accounts this loss to the snowbirds becoming older, making it more difficult for them to travel and move, or dying all together.
Besides growing age, cost of living in the Ahwatukee Foothills is also a factor that is attributed to the lack of snowbirds. According to David Roney of Arizona Real Estate, Ahwatukee is one of the more expensive places to live in the Valley. Many of the snowbirds make the decision to live in RVs rather than splurging on a winter house. According to a study from Arizona State University, 84,000 winter residents lived in Phoenix-area mobile home parks in 2003.
While snowbirds primarily choose to live in more affordable communities during their stay, a large number of those winter travelers that do migrate to Ahwatukee often choose to become a permanent citizen in the community, effectively becoming “staybirds.”
• Kaitlyn Thompson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.