Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Weekend of speed proves slow for some St. Petersburg merchants
(by Danny Valentine tampbay.com/news 3-28-11)
A roar at the racetrack and excellent tourism weather didn't translate into an increase at the cash register for many nearby downtown businesses this weekend.
Some businesses by the route of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg prepared for crowds, but said they actually saw more customers other weekends.
At Cassis American Brasserie on Beach Drive, just a few blocks from the racetrack, business was off about 30 percent on Saturday, said Aaron Bond, the restaurant's general manager.
"Honestly, it's a little less than our normal business," he said.
What's more, Bond said the restaurant staffed up for the "best-case scenario," adding about 20 percent more than normal during the day.
This is the first year the restaurant has been open for the Grand Prix, which started Friday and ended Sunday.
"We didn't know what to expect," he said. "It's not like we've been completely dead. It just hasn't been busy as normal."
That refrain was repeated at several restaurants, ice cream and coffee shops and other merchants along the strip.
"I think the big event — it just scares the locals from the area," said Laurie Ruderman, a manager at Agora accessories and imported furniture.
Ruderman said business was a little slower from past weekends. But still, she said it was great to have the event here.
"The race is fantastic," she said. "It's like a picture-perfect Florida tourism day."
An official estimate of the weekend's crowd was not available Sunday.
Bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s greeted racegoers. It was hot, but made bearable by a slight wind.
"It's glorious," said Judi Neville, of Candia, N.H.
In town on a vacation that happened to coincide with the race, she said it was about 20 degrees back home.
Ken O'Bannon, owner of the Lucky Dill on Central Avenue, said the good weather didn't help business much.
Of the three races he has seen as owner, this weekend saw by far the least amount of business, he said.
"Last year, Sunday morning there was a crowd waiting to get in," he said. "This morning, there were not people waiting to get in."
O'Bannon estimated he got about 25 percent fewer customers compared with each of the past two years. He said the turnout wasn't above normal compared with a typical weekend.
"Normally, we see a big increase," he said. "We're not seeing that increase."
But not all businesses reported a slower weekend.
Steven McCreary, the general manager at Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive, said the weekend had been good.
"The race has been a great hit," he said. "Obviously, the weather has been outstanding. It's great for us to see the drivers out and about eating dinner."
He said he understands that some locals don't want to be in town for the race and flee for the weekend. But he said that's mitigated by an influx of people coming in to watch the race.
"I think it's obviously great for the economy, for the hotels, for us," he said. "It's fun."
That's exactly what 11-year-old Nathan Valentine thought.
"I loved it," he said.
Nathan and his mother came out for the race from Tampa about 8:30 a.m. More than the main IndyCar race, he wanted to catch the drifting cars Sunday morning.
"That's like my main thing," he said.