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Restaurants nearest skating event venues thriving

Financial impact of championships welcome

Back in 2007, skaters and fans visiting Spokane for the city’s first U.S. Figure Skating Championships spent $12 million to $26 million – depending on whose numbers you use – over the event’s eight days.

But after the skaters left town, many downtown businesses said they saw minimal impact from the event. And some, like Rock City Grill owner Jim Rhoades, said his business slumped while the skating crowd was here.

“Our regular customers heard that downtown would be crowded, so they stayed away, thinking they couldn’t find parking,” Rhoades said.

This time around, organizers of the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships worked hard on pumping more dollars into the cash registers of local businesses, scheduling longer gaps between sessions so people could leave the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Did it work?

Many downtown business managers said this year’s 10-day event produced sales far exceeding their usual Januaries. Others said the impact has been slight.

What’s clear, said Harry Sladich, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, is that the financial impact from this year’s event is directly related to how close one’s business is to the Spokane Arena.

“It might be a bad analogy after the earthquake in Haiti,” he said, “but the Arena is the epicenter of the financial impact. And the amount of money spent (in the community) diminishes the farther away from there one goes.”

Area restaurant managers would agree. The restaurant closest to the skating venue, Clinkerdagger’s, in the Flour Mill across the street, gained so much business between skating sessions that the restaurant started selling box lunches for fans who didn’t want to wait in line.

Anthony’s, another nearby eatery, added servers because of the increase in business. Rock City Grill and Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar, both across the Spokane River from the Arena in the downtown core, however, saw a much less significant impact.

Rhoades said his restaurant’s sales are down about 20 percent from January 2009, but he noted the year-ago period was an unusually strong month. “That January (in 2009) was the December people couldn’t have because of the snowstorm,” Rhoades said.

Mike Jones, owner of Mizuna, said, “We see some impact, but it’s slight.”

One of the clearest cases of major financial impact is right inside the Arena, where many food and beverage servers working for the facility’s concession company, Centerplate, racked up big overtime paychecks.

Centerplate saw a 10 percent increase in food and beverage sales compared with 2007. Spokane Centerplate Manager Scott Middleton said much of that gain came from the addition of the Absolut Grill, a spacious dining area that opened after the 2007 skating event.

Patti Starr, who manages the Absolut Grill, worked every day of the event, averaging 12-hour days. She’s among the dozens of Centerplate employees who clocked 60 or more overtime hours.

Middleton said it was easier to add hours for Centerplate’s 100 or so servers than to try to train new ones.

“This will help pay off some bills,” said Starr, whose other job is driving a school bus.

“This also makes up for the slack months in the summer when we don’t do much work at all here,” she said.

Retailers downtown said they saw more people on the streets but not necessarily a lot more business.

Mary Jo King, general manager of Auntie’s Bookstore, said sales for the month to date have been “about average.”

Some skating fans, such as Wanda Marzetti, of Lexington, Ohio, took advantage of a 10 percent coupon offered by Auntie’s to anyone with a skating ticket. She purchased postcards to send to friends.

Murray Huppin, president of Huppin’s Hi-Fi, Photo and Video downtown, said he saw few skating fans in his store, but he didn’t really expect to. They aren’t likely to stock up on consumer electronics, he said.

He believes most fans prefer hanging around inside or near the Arena, knitting or talking to their companions.

His proof? Huppin’s wife, Leslie Huppin, works at A Grand Yarn, a South Hill shop that sells yarn and knitting supplies.

“They’ve had more people from the skating event come in than I’ve had here,” Huppin said.