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Full flights also lift airport's businesses

Regina Leary doesn't need to look at passenger statistics to know this is the best of times for local commercial air travel.

Business at the Medford airport-based Sky House Bar & Grill, where Leary is general manager, has kept pace with the airport, which has reeled off 14 straight record months for passenger activity.

"At the beginning of the year, when things are supposed to be dead, people just kept coming," Leary said. "Normally, that time of year we're making maybe $600 a day. Instead of it being slow and having to cut employee hours, it was just the opposite. It was like the summer never ended; our food and alcohol sales were all up."

Sky House Bar & Grill's September receipts, the latest month available on the county logs, were up 17 percent to $105,000 from $92,000 a year earlier.

"We're a mom-and-pop business," Leary said. "We've got 16 employees, and to keep families fed all year is a beautiful thing."

The 66,562 passengers passing through the gates in October were just as beautiful to airport Director Bern Case.

"It's been a long grind coming out of the recession, but growth is good right now," Case said. "I don't know if we can stay at double-digit growth, but we might have the all-time record going into December."

Last month topped the record October 2014 count of 59,458 by more than 7,000 passengers, or nearly 12 percent. For the year, commercial passenger activity is up 14.5 percent. The 10-month total of 631,724 is more than the entire 2013 calendar year and surpassed all but four years going back to 1978. United Express saw a 23.1 percent gain to lead the way.

A ripple of economic impact flows to the rental-car counters and parking lot, as well.

"When you get an extra 100,000 passengers, more dollars are spent, and that ricochets around the community," Case said.

Through September, the rental agencies inside the terminals recorded 143,236 rental days, 19.8 percent higher than the 119,539 figure for the first nine months of 2014.

In September, the agencies reported 25,378 rental days versus 24,496 a year earlier.

Year-over-year parking lot revenue grew 16 percent in October to $242,056 from $207,893 in 2014.

"The parking lot was supposed to last us to 2022, but we're not going to make it that far," Case said. "We're already using overflow on busy times, and the holidays put us to overflow. We've got capacity, but we could surpass it."

It's a nice problem to have, he said.

"We're talking about expansion, whether it should be on the ground or a structure," Case said. "It's too soon to guess, we're actually trying to find the right consultant to guide us."

At Sky House Bar & Grill, where everything from burgers to desserts is made from scratch, outbound travel growth is a continuing boon, Leary said.

"Our regulars like to see the same happy faces," she said. "And we want people to leave with a little piece of home."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.