In Annapolis, weekend sales tied to sails


Some storekeepers lost business when their regular customers decided to avoid the crowds, but hotels, restaurants and cafes profited handsomely when thousands of visitors squeezed into Annapolis during the weekend for festivities surrounding the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau said hotel occupancy was very high for the weekend, with several hotels booked to capacity in the final days before the event last week.

Melanie Suggs, president and chief executive officer of the bureau, said its volunteers assisted about 3,500 visitors Saturday at its West Street office and at two booths on City Dock.

"For us, it was a great kickoff to our tourist season," Suggs said. About 25,000 people were on City Dock during the weekend for race or the accompanying Maritime Heritage Festival, said Jeff Holland, director of the festival and the local race "village."

Turnout was especially good Saturday, Holland said. On Sunday morning, despite rain and severe weather warnings, about a thousand people showed up for the blessing of the fleet, he said.

"Overall, the feeling that we are getting from the sponsors and all of the participants is that it was a fabulous success," Holland said.

Charter boat companies were among the big winners, as corporate sponsors and others rented boats to watch the race resume near the Bay Bridge on Sunday. Then, more than a thousand boats crowded the bay to watch participants begin the next leg of the race, in which they'll cross the Atlantic to La Rochelle, France.

"Almost every charter boat in this area was booked, and some were brought in from out of the area, [including from] New York City," said Judy Sobek, a partner with Nautical Destinations at Eastport.

Mike Riordan, owner of Riordan's Saloon on City Dock, said he had a "strong weekend," with a good crowd at his restaurant on the days of and leading to the event.

At Phillips Annapolis Harbor restaurant, which is adjacent to the area used for the festival, business nearly broke records Saturday, but on the weekdays before the event the restaurant was less busy than usual. John Maske, assistant general manager, said he thinks this was because the parking that his customers use was converted into the festival grounds.

Other Annapolis merchants reported similar problems.

Pueblo Azul, an imports store at Harbour Square mall, did about one-fifth as much business as is typical on weekends, sales associate Emily Perrone said. Across the hall at men's clothing store Hyde Park, owner Donald Griffin said his business also was hurt - as it is during most events - because regular customers, anticipating crowds and insufficient parking, avoided downtown.

"There is a misconception that these events create thousands of dollars in business for the merchants downtown," Griffin said. "The dollars that are perceived to be generated never materialize."

But Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the event will help all area businesses in the long run: "We were able to showcase the city. There were people who came to see this event who never had been to Annapolis before. These people will be back."

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