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Businesses Slow To Catch Hoopfest Bug Like It Or Not, Stores, Restaurants Try To Get Along With Basketball Jamboree

Spokane businesses had no problem falling in love with Bloomsday, that annual Sunday morning party interrupted by a couple of hours of walking or running.

Downtown merchants and business managers are taking longer to embrace Hoopfest, the sweaty, two-day jamboree featuring thousands of people playing in three-on-three basketball games.

“We love Bloomsday,” said Auntie’s Bookstore co-owner Chris O’Harra. “It’s over by the time we open our doors for business.

“Hoopfest is different. It’s two full days and it definitely makes a few problems for us. It costs us money, probably in the thousands” in lost business, she said.

Girding for next weekend, O’Harra and many other downtown merchants have decided to work with Hoopfest, joining the fun and pacing themselves to reduce the pain.

Some businesses, in fact, can’t wait. Fast food, street-level restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway have their best weekends of the year during Hoopfest. Most downtown hotels are already booked solid for the weekend.

Andy Dinnison of the novelty shop Boo Radley’s on Post Street likes Hoopfest so much he’ll stay open an extra day on Sunday, and added orders of candy and pop to sell.

“I really lucked out, since they’ve got the young guys playing right outside my door,” he said. “They’re my type of customers.”

In its sixth year, Hoopfest has become a major downtown event, joining Bloomsday and the Lilac Armed Forces Torchlight Parade in capturing public interest.

Even doubters like O’Harra applaud the three events for the money and community pride they generate.

Hoopfest is expected to bring about 14,000 players and 30,000 spectators per day to watch games on 214 courts.

“For the most part, people in downtown think it’s great,” said Rick Betts, a Hoopfest committee member and director of the event its first two years.

“But yes, there are financial impacts that are not positive for some businesses,” he said.

What merchants don’t enjoy are the downtown streets being blocked off and hordes of players killing time or searching for a restroom between games.

It’s also clear Hoopfest is a permanent fixture, no longer an experiment.

Instead of grumbling, the merchants expecting to lose money Hoopfest weekend now concentrate on finding ways to offset the losses and minimize the pain.

O’Harra, for instance, asked Hoopfest planners to schedule mostly adult basketball games on the courts surrounding Auntie’s Bookstore on Main.

Organizers agreed, moving the children’s games to courts elsewhere downtown.

Some merchants also requested that equipment trucks not be parked on Riverside Avenue during Hoopfest. They won’t this year, giving pedestrians easier access to shops.

Other accommodations are being imposed by business owners themselves.

Last year O’Harra and co-owner Shannon Ahern closed Auntie’s on Hoopfest Sunday, costing the bookstore several thousand dollars in sales.

This year, they’re asking all their employees to work both days. They’ll be conducting a store inventory, but also will be on hand to manage the throngs looking for restrooms or hunting for soft drinks.

Laith Elaimy, owner of Niko’s Restaurant, is closing one of his downtown businesses during the event and leaving another open an extra day.

The full-service restaurant will shut down both days. He knows from experience that regular lunch and dinner customers don’t come downtown during Hoopfest.

On the other hand, he’s keeping his nearby snack-bar coffee shop open an extra day.

“It’s a different kind of business. It doesn’t have a public bathroom, and it’s good for people who want to come in, get something to eat or drink, and go,” said Elaimy.

The one occasional business request that won’t be accommodated, said Betts, is moving Hoopfest from downtown.

Having looked around, Betts and others say no other section of town matches downtown for ease of use and atmosphere.

“Plus, there’s the backdrop of Riverfront Park. That’s one of the great things about Hoopfest, to have that wonderful park right there to enjoy.”

Other cities hold similar events in large parking lots or outside a public coliseum. “When you go to those events, you get a totally different ambience. It doesn’t feel the same,” Betts said.

“Here, the fun in a sense comes from being able to play where you’re not supposed to be.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Hoopfest leaps