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"There's no place like Branson," claims Lynn Berry, director of public relations for the Branson Chamber of Commerce. "It's a friendly, family atmosphere. There's nothing offensive. Four generations of a family could come here. There's no gambling. It's great family fun."
Or, as Homer Simpson once put it, "It's like Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders."
Nonetheless, Branson has been a vacation destination for Chicagoans for decades now, dating back to when Berry's husband, now 63, was a mere lad of 15 bussing tables in a Branson restaurant and engaging in a series of two-week-long romances with girls visiting from Chicago.
Branson's remote location in the Missouri Ozarks, however, made it difficult for a quick weekend getaway. The nearest major airport was three hours away, in Little Rock. But in 2009, the town finally got its own airport, the result, as Berry puts it, of 15 years of "hopin' and prayin'" and also the vision of Steve Peet, a man from Connecticut who became the airport's CEO. In a recent poll, 20 percent of Branson tourists claimed they would not have visited were it not for the airport.
But Branson-ites are now greedily anticipating the so-called "Southwest effect": When the carrier chooses a new city, airline travel increases 300 percent within a few years.
At the moment, the Branson airport is a homey place, says Berry, which bears a strong resemblance to a Bass Pro Shop. It's known for the "Branson Wave," wherein airport employees stand on the runway and wave hello or farewell to arriving or departing aircraft. It was also, Berry notes proudly, named one of the top ten stress-free airports in the entire country—though she also admits that it's kind of hard to get stressed out in an airport that has only four flights per day. (The level of stress, of course, may also depend on your feelings about Bass Pro Shops.) The Chicago run will raise that number to six, but Berry's sure the airport can handle it.
For future reference, it costs as little as $76 to fly from Chicago to Branson (one-way) and takes a mere 90 minutes, just long enough for a good round of the ever-popular Missouri parlor game "Dead or in Branson?"