Ottawa County cashes in on Crystal

Crystal Bowersox's limelight will lend some of its glow to Ottawa County during the airing of American Idol this week. The folksy local singer visited her home county on Friday for a segment on the Idol finalists' hometowns. After dropping by her old stomping grounds in Elliston, Bowersox performed a short concert at the Ottawa County fairgrounds that drew 5,000 to 6,000 people.
Sarah Weber
May 18, 2010

Crystal Bowersox's limelight will lend some of its glow to Ottawa County during the airing of American Idol this week.

The folksy local singer visited her home county on Friday for a segment on the Idol finalists' hometowns. After dropping by her old stomping grounds in Elliston, Bowersox performed a short concert at the Ottawa County fairgrounds that drew 5,000 to 6,000 people.

In a county where unemployment rates neared 20 percent this past winter, Bowersox's fame is a welcome boost to the county's morale and its finances.

"There were thousands of people in the area," Lake Erie Shores and Islands West director Larry Fletcher said. "Those people had to probably buy some gasoline, maybe some snacks and a meal or two while they were here."

While the Idol finalist's impact on the local economy is hard to quantify, it's undeniably positive.

Fletcher talked to more than one visitor at the fairgrounds who traveled to the county to see Bowersox.

"Perhaps they saw some things they didn't know were here, and that will encourage them to come back," he said.

Laura Schlachter, director of the Port Clinton Chamber of Commerce, said she's excited about the singer putting Ottawa County on the map for a national audience.

"Perhaps people who might never have considered traveling here for a weekend getaway, this might open them up to that," she said. "It will definitely help. It gives national exposure to a community that might not have had it otherwise."

County commissioners Mark Stahl, Steve Arndt and Jim Sass presented Bowersox with a gift bag full of presents and mementos from her home community on Friday.

Stahl said he feels confident she'll keep home in mind as she goes on to accomplish great things.

"The whole community is really pulling behind her," Stahl said. The commissioners, proudly sporting their Bowersox T-shirts, join residents at Trinity United Church of Christ in Elliston to watch the hometown hero on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Oak Harbor mayor Fred Conley said while it's been a thrill to watch Bowersox sing her way to national fame, it might be a little early to say how much of a tourism and economic impact Mama Sox-mania will have on the community. He said local businesses enjoyed an uptick in sales Friday as thousands of visitors flooded in.

"The way our economy is right now, we're hoping there is a recovery in the works and anything that creates some excitement in a small town like ours is a good thing," he said.

Though Bowersox calls Elliston home, she went to Oak Harbor schools though her sophomore year. Conley said Oak Harbor residents think of her as one of their own.

All of the local officials said they're interested to see what footage of Ottawa County makes it into the American Idol show.

Stahl said he hopes crews capture how much support Bowersox has among county residents, and how happy they are to see her success.

Fletcher said only time will tell, but people might someday identify Ottawa County as the home of Crystal Bowersox the way they associate it with the islands and area attractions.

"We already know whether or not she goes all the way to No. 1, she's already made quite the mark for herself," he said.