PUNXSUTAWNEY — Talk about irony at its best.
This year's most popular souvenir item — a T-shirt depicting a snow-covered Punxsy Phil, with the advice to "Chill Out" — is a little ironic considering the mild winter weather tourists experienced Feb. 1 and Groundhog Day.
"The nicest thing about this year was no rain, no snow, no ice," Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marlene Lellock said. "That is one of the best things about Groundhog Day 2012."
According to Lellock, nice weather brings a lot of people into town, which translates into good sales at Punxsutawney Phil's Souvenir Shop.
"(The store) did well," she said. "Our sales were double what they were last year on Feb. 1 and 2. We are very grateful for this year's weather."
And the tourists stayed — even past 2 p.m. Groundhog Day, when most locals think the community, its stores and businesses shut down.
"This year, more than any other year I can remember, there were still a lot of people out and about attending events after 2 p.m.," Lellock said. "There were even people in town after 6 p.m. looking for things to do."
But the opposite seems to happen if snow and rain figure into the mix.
"If it's cold and snowy, people come down off the Knob, they're tired and hungry and cold, and figure they're going to pack it in and go home or go back to their hotel room," she said. "But it was mild out, so tourists hung around."
As Chamber director, Lellock had duties outside of the souvenir shop Groundhog Day, but at 8:30 a.m., as she was leaving the store, she couldn't make it out the front door.
She used the back exit as an escape, while head clerk Mary Ann Jacobson manned the front of the store.
"There was a constant, steady flow of people," Jacobson said. "And the people were from all over the place — California, Florida, Texas and even Russia."
While the "Chill Out" T-shirt was the most popular item in-store, along with numerous other T-shirts, the talking groundhog was the No. 1 item sold online at www.groundhogstuff.com , followed by Mardi Gras beads in the No. 2 spot.
The store's newest items — a soup and spoon mug, and a beer stein — also did well online.
Red pens were another hot item and eventually sold out.
"It was a little bit of everything," Jacobson said. "Because everybody's different in what they pick up."
Although 2012 is the year without the Punxsy Phil plush, Lellock was pleased with the number of sales.
She said business was comparable to 2010, when the store had ordered only a very small quantity of Punxsy Phil plush, which had little impact on the overall sales outlook.
The lack of a plush also had little impact on tourists' approval.
"This year's crowd was a pretty accepting crowd," Lellock said. "There are always those years when you get a crowd with a lot of people complaining. But this crowd was very nice, very polite and enjoyed what we had here."
This year's crowd was also full of people celebrating their Feb. 2 birthdays.
"That's the thing for people to do now who were born on Feb. 2 — to come to Punxsy to celebrate their birthday," she said. "It's a big thing."
As Groundhog Day is a little more than a week past, it may seem as though Punxsutawney Phil's Souvenir Shop and the people behind the madness are able to enjoy a little bit of a break.
But Lellock has already received more than 50 requests for visitor info — some for Groundhog Day 2013 and some for general info about Punxsutawney.
"We've had several phone calls from people who are trying to make reservations for next year," Lellock said. "From those people who have called, the bed and breakfasts are already full for next year."