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Sunday, July 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Despite changes, Hoopfest expected to get downtown business booming

By Drew Gerber The Spokesman-Review

For the thousands of people expected to circulate through downtown this weekend, there’ll be no shortage of spectacles – booths, costumes, and of course, the 3-on-3 Hoopfest tournament itself.

But for the small army of employees tasked with keeping downtown’s shops and businesses up and running, the view will be a little more constrained.

For Mikaela Pilant, this year it means that instead of hitting the basketball court as in years past, she’ll be working the floor of Sport Town, an athletic wear retailer where she’s a sales clerk on Main Avenue across from Bennett Block parking lot where Hoopfest Center Court will be set up.

“It sucks. I mean it makes me sad,” she said. “But I gotta make money.”

More than 250,000 people are expected to descend upon Spokane’s downtown shopping district this weekend, bringing in about $46 million to the area by its close, said Bailee Neyland, director of brand strategy and business development for the Spokane Hoopfest Association.

Those numbers, based upon an economic impact analysis conducted by Gonzaga University in 2014, are expected to be exceeded this year as Hoopfest continues to grow and add more pre-weekend events, Neyland said.

Though Hoopfest is uprooted from Riverfront Park due to construction, the park will still play host to events like Friday’s food festival, Neyland said. Some big attractions, like the Nike shop and the Toyota Shootoff tournament, have moved to Howard Street, where they’ll overlook the center court showdowns between elite teams.

While the shops in the vicinity of center court will be mobbed with fans eager to see the top teams play, Pilant said the crowd that will swarm in and out of Sport Town only wants one thing: shoes.

Customers come in for the latest shoes, like Jordans or Kevin Durant’s new KD 10s, many of which Pilant said Sport Town has special ordered.

Neyland also said that Hoopfest, which worked closely with Nike to be the first to sell Durant shoes last year, manages to sell some of the newest products before their summer release.

Even with all three registers open, managing the flood of people can be a challenge with the handful of staff working the large Sport Town storefront, Pilant said.

Just a block up Howard Street, Jen Menzer said she often wonders to herself where exactly all these people come from.

“It’s a whole different crowd,” said Menzer, manager at Atticus Coffee & Gifts. “I know a bunch are from out of town, but there are also a ton who just never come downtown.”

The cafe at Atticus, which sits right on center court this year, is always packed during Hoopfest, Menzer said. Though retail sales during the weekend aren’t as strong, since most people come in looking for the bathroom or something to drink, Atticus often sells out of shirts and baseball caps if they have them, she said.

Boo Radley’s, the sister store to Atticus that sells eclectic pop-culture items, will be staying open later this weekend despite not really seeing a change in sales, said Alex Edmonds, a clerk. But Edmonds said he thinks Hoopfest is good for Spokane, and that it helps people see what the town has to offer.

However, not every business benefits from Hoopfest and its chaotic crowds – not to mention the road closures that congest the downtown. When asked how Hoopfest affects Anchored Art Tattoo & Gallery on Riverside Avenue, one artist laughed. “We’re bankrupt!” he said.

Though one might think Hoopfest’s large crowds might lead to some poorly thought-out basketball tattoos, that’s not the case, said artist Jeremy Corns. Instead, Corns said the weekend just brings their normal clients like any other day, if they’re lucky. Some might not bother to fight their way downtown, so a lot of people coming into the shop are just asking for the bathroom, he said.

And although Sport Town does good business during Hoopfest, Pilant said it’s also when theft at the store spikes.

But while Hoopfest may not benefit all businesses equally, some shops are still eager to get into the spirit of the weekend. Bartender Nick Walker at Wild Dawgs, a hot dog restaurant and bar on Howard Street, said the restaurant plans to host a large 2-on-2 beer pong tournament this Saturday in honor of the athletes pounding the basketball courts.

If business owners can agree on only one thing, it’s that it’s going to be a long weekend.

“The most important thing is to just stay super positive,” Menzer said.

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