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Garth Brooks drums up $14.6 million worth of business in Spokane

Country singer Garth Brooks and his band played their first show at the Spokane Arena in 19 years on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Country singer Garth Brooks and his band played their first show at the Spokane Arena in 19 years on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Superstar Garth Brooks’ impact on country music is arguably beyond compare, with a legacy of more than 160 million albums sold and a ’90s run that redefined live country performances.

But the effect Brooks has when he rolls into a city like Spokane may be just as impressive. Like the music, he has a way of changing things and making his presence felt in a concert host city – just ask the area’s hotels, restaurants and other business interests.

Tomato Street, an Italian restaurant in River Park Square, is known for its pizza and chicken parm, but this weekend it’s going for more of a country vibe.

Its outdoor patio, which closed once the weather cooled down, was reopened and outfitted with propane heaters, bales of hay, loud country music and a cardboard cutout of Brooks. The new look isn’t permanent, general manager Nick Talarico said, just here while Brooks is in town to play seven sold-out shows at the Spokane Arena.

“We just thought it was a good thing to capitalize on,” Talarico said. “Hopefully, it works and we get some people to show up.”

The restaurant is offering drink specials and treating the “Garth Brooks patio party” as an extension of its bar, Talarico said. “It’ll be a place to warm up before you go to the concert.”

Tomato Street joins a number of Spokane businesses hoping to increase revenue during Brooks’ six-day run in Spokane – and there is plenty of money to be made.

Tourism organization Visit Spokane estimates the economic impact of Brooks’ concert stop will be $14,650,400. That includes money spent on lodging, transportation, food and beverage, retail, recreation and business services, Visit Spokane spokeswoman Kate Hudson said.

“This is such a fun thing for Spokane and it’s historic because it sold out so quickly,” she said last week. “We have 80,000 people coming to the area over the next five days. It is great for business.”

Many Spokane restaurants started planning for Brooks’ visit weeks ago.

Mark Starr, owner of David’s Pizza, directly across the street from the Spokane Arena, said the day tickets went on sale (and sold out) he called up his distributors and started making plans to make sure he’d have enough food for the Garth rush. Midweek, Starr said he was getting deliveries each day from Thursday to Tuesday.

“Our goal is to do the best job we can,” he said. “Hopefully, we don’t run out, but if we do, I think people will understand.”

It’s customary for David’s Pizza to be busy when there is a concert date at the arena, Starr said. His staff will work hard before and after a concert but take a deep breath and relax the next day, Starr said. This time, they won’t have that luxury – they were planning on being full Thursday to Tuesday.

It is important that restaurant employees are aware people are going to the concert, said Casey Curtis, Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar’s director of operations.

Curtis said he sent a message to the staff at all of the company’s area restaurants to be aware and help guests finish in time for the shows. He said the arena’s new security measures slow things down and people need to arrive earlier so they get to their seats by showtime. He doesn’t want people to miss Brooks’ opening song and blame it on Twigs or Tortilla Union, both located in downtown’s River Park Square.

“On Saturday and Sunday, we have to make sure we are on our game,” Curtis said before the weekend. With Brooks playing two shows each day, Curtis said he was planning on treating lunch as a dinner rush those days as people dine before the early shows.

No vacancy

People from across the region have been coming to town for the Brooks concerts, filling up local hotels.

“We have quite a few people coming from outside the area,” Visit Spokane’s Hudson said. “We like to call it ‘the Golden Circle,’ a 250-mile radius around Spokane. That is where we get a lot of our visitors.”

She also said it is common for people from the Seattle area to come to Spokane for concerts because tickets are usually cheaper.

Area hotels reported guests arriving from Montana, Western Washington and British Columbia.

Hotel Ruby said it was sold out for the weekend, as was the DoubleTree by Hilton Spokane City Center near the Spokane Convention Center. Matt Jensen, marketing manager for the Davenport Hotel Collection, said all rooms in all four Davenport properties were full Friday and Saturday, with only a few rooms left for today through Tuesday.

“This is the best thing that could happen to us in November. This time of year usually isn’t busy for us,” Jensen said.

Outside downtown, the Holiday Inn Spokane Airport said it was booked Saturday and Sunday and at least 80 percent full Thursday and Friday.

Mark Richard, Downtown Spokane Partnership president, said the Brooks concerts will be a great preview of what Spokane has to offer in the winter.

“This is a great lead into the holiday season,” he said. “Maybe it gets people to come back for the holiday Spokane experience.”

Nothing compares

While Spokane has a number of events that bring thousands of people to its downtown – think Bloomsday or Hoopfest – there is something different about the Garth Brooks shows.

“I don’t know if we have seen anything like this,” Richard said. “The closest it comes to is some of the ice-skating events” at the arena.

Curtis and Jensen said their respective businesses expected the impact to be similar to big Broadway shows like “The Lion King” or “Phantom of the Opera” coming to town.

“Many concerts have been this huge: The Eagles, Elton John, Luke Bryan, Eric Church,” said Matt Gibson, Spokane Arena general manager. “But the thing here is that there are seven shows and Tacoma only got five. Even though they out-grossed us by 20,000 people or more, we still have more shows than they did.”

And more shows could mean more money. Travel Tacoma + Pierce County said Brooks’ Tacoma concerts had a $12.5 million economic impact there. That is more than $2.5 million less than what is expected in Spokane.

“The only other show we can compare this to would be the last time Mr. Brooks was in town in 1998 with five sold-out events,” Gibson said. “No one else out there schedules concerts like he does.”