For a small town, LeClaire is a big "asset."
It’s not as if LeClaire is crawling with tourism experts. But the people who have driven its growth have displayed an uncanny eye for potential.
One presumption is that the popular TV show ‘American Pickers’ has driven LeClaire’s tourism success. But it would be a mistake to give its presence all the credit.
‘Pickers’ creator Mike Wolfe was a councilman in LeClaire when downtown revitalization became a bricks-and-mortar priority in 2007. But he wasn’t the lone wolf.
“He always saw potential,” said LeClaire Tourism Manager Cindy Bruhn. “But a lot of people saw the potential. We knew something was here.”
She gives early credit to the first few LeClaire restaurants to arrive in town. Happy Joe’s was a popular spot for townspeople, and the California couple who opened the Faithful Pilot drew visitors from outside of town.
The downtown revitalization efforts carried the momentum from there, Bruhn said.
More shops and restaurants settled in LeClaire, and merchants came up with their own ideas to contribute to the goal of a tourism destination.
The city had help, too, from the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, and both parties played off one another, Bruhn said.
“I have a lot of contact with Joe (Taylor),” she said. “It’s definitely a great partnership there. LeClaire is one of the assets they sell.”
But LeClaire also sells itself.
“The first thing people ask after, Where is 'American Pickers’ Antique Archaeology’ (retail store) is, ‘How can we get on the river?’” Bruhn said.
So, those invested in LeClaire’s success created more access to the Mississippi.
In addition to improvements on the riverfront levee, sightseeing cruises on the historic Twilight Riverboat attracted more people and continue to fill rooms in LeClaire’s three hotels, eight guest houses and its bed & breakfast.
Hotel occupancy is critical to LeClaire’s continued growth, because the related pillow taxes supply the Tourism Board the money they need to sell the town.
Meanwhile, merchants have come through with more ideas to foster the destination.
The idea for the popular First Fridays events came from the folks at the Mississippi River Distilling Company — so did the idea to label the two-block stretch that contains the distillery, Wide River Winery and Green Tree Brewery “Libations Lane.”
More proof that tourism success takes many forms is found in an event that builds on people’s desire to be near the Mississippi but also near restaurants and bars. Given that much of downtown LeClaire is on the riverfront, the combination produces more tourism opportunities.
Vettes on the River is a Corvette car show that raises money for Vietnam Veterans’ causes.
In 2010, the event drew 23 Corvettes. In 2012, a total of 247 signed up. In 2016, the event drew 403 cars and, last year, the LeClaire levee filled up fast with 522 Corvettes. This summer, organizers expect to reach 600.
“They’re actually right on the river, and the restaurants are right there,” Bruhn said of the attraction for Corvette enthusiasts. “A lot of them come the night before, so the hotels fill up.”
The town’s calendar of events continues to fill up with popular, proven events, and Bruhn and the nine-member volunteer Tourism Board continue to look for more ways to keep people coming.
Their efforts are, undeniably, paying off.
“LeClaire used to be a place to drive through on the way to the Quad-Cities,” she said. “There was never any nightlife to speak of. Now, even on weeknights, there are cars all over the downtown.”