From restaurants, museums, to tattoo shops, how local businesses fared during the Redskins’ stay.
Over 165,000 fans attended the 17-day Washington Redskins training camp at the new $10 million facility largely funded by Bon Secours. Last October, City officials estimated the camp would bring in roughly $8.5 million annually, in part from the money fans would spend at local businesses.
Did that actually happen? It depends on which business you talk to.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Buz Grossberg, owner of Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue on Boulevard, easily walkable from training camp. Buz & Ned’s was also a sponsor of the camp on ESPN 950 AM.
“What actually happened, in the first nine days it was pretty light going. And then the weekend of the Fan Appreciation Day, and the Friday before, we started seeing a marked increase in business,” he said. “All in all, it was not as large as we expected. But it was good in that it did increase our business.”
But that wasn’t the case across the street at Fat Dragon.
“The large amount of traffic has actually caused a drop in business,” said James “Ren” Mefford, one of the owner’s of the restaurant. Fat Dragon was also a sponsor on 950 AM.
“Word on the street is that a lot regulars are avoiding the area due to congestion and parking issues. The out-of-towners are bringing their own food, or eating near their hotels.”
Bill Webb, owner of The Dairy Bar in Scott’s Addition, echoed this.
“I empathize with Fat Dragon, and frankly a lot of the local restaurants, that we haven’t seen the additional traffic from the camp. In fact, it’s been counterproductive on some days” because of regulars avoiding the area.
Redskins camp facts
- 4,400 room nights booked at the Omni hotel
- 15,000 meals purchased for players
- 44,000 bottles of water consumed
- 18,000 bottles of Gatorade drank
- 5,000 kids participated in football/cheerleading programs
Webb believes that parking for camp attendees was so scarce, fans didn’t want to leave the camp after arriving. To motivate fans to explore Richmond, and without sacrificing their parking spot, Webb proposes that the City employ between 10-15 trolleys. Those trolleys would shuttle passengers to restaurants on a pre-determined route, then return them to camp in time for the afternoon practice. Webb hopes that businesses and City planning officials will soon sit down to discuss this and other options for next year.
But restaurant’s weren’t the only ones affected by the camp.
“We haven’t done a single Redskins tattoo,” said Brad Douglas, manager of River City Tattoo across the street from both Buz & Ned’s and Fat Dragon. He said the tattoo shop anticipated increased foot traffic based on the proximity of the shop to camp. That never happened.
Douglas blames the 1-hour parking signs outside the shop along Boulevard that he feels dissuades potential customers. He said the signs are seldom, if ever, enforced. “I’ve never seen a meter maid” patrolling that area, he said. “I think they should take the damn signs down.”
Adjacent to the Redskins camp is the Children’s Museum of Richmond, which also experienced a drop in attendance.
“It appears that our regular visitors stayed away because of traffic and parking fears, and we didn’t see any measurable pick up from people attending the camp,” said Karen Coltrane, the museum’s president and CEO. “Our sense is that they created a great Redskins fan experience by putting food and entertainment options right in the complex, so many camp visitors never felt the need to venture out and see what else Richmond had to offer.”
As a result, the phenomenon crippled an important time for the museum. “This is typically one of our busiest times of year, so being down in attendance and revenue was disappointing. We may consider taking the events we typically offer at our main location during this time of year and holding them at our satellite locations as an alternative.”
But Coltrane isn’t embittered by the team’s presence. “Anything that improves this part of the City is positive, even if it doesn’t directly benefit the Children’s Museum,” she said.
But not all businesses had slow patches. The Science Museum of Virginia, next door to the Children’s Museum, saw an increase in attendance.
“We were thrilled with the success of this year’s event and we definitely saw additional traffic,” said Terri Rose, the communications director at the museum. “We worked closely with the Redskins to develop football science activities and partnered to display their three Lombardi Trophies from their Super Bowl wins of 1982, 1987, and 1991.” She said the museum also hired a parking firm to manage their lot to ensure museum guests had a place to park.
There was one business that almost certainly didn’t expect to see a bump in business as a result of the Redskins camp, but got one anyway.
“He was very nice, very humble, and he was a gentleman,” said Candace Hargrove of The Beauty Bar on the 6000 block of Brook Road. “A lot of people were calling my phone” after RGIII named her at the press conference, leading to extra business for Hargrove and the salon.
Downtown, the Omni Hotel hosted both players and administrative personnel.
“It was a substantial piece of business,” said Bill Jordon, the hotel’s director of marketing, although he declined to elaborate further. But in addition to the team itself “we were able to offer to offer Ultimate Fan packages that our out-of-town guests took advantage of,” he said. The team’s presence also netted the hotel local PR. He said that the Redskins will return to the Omni next year.
That’s good news for The Tobacco Company.
“With the Redskins staying at the Omni Hotel across the street, we have seen an influx of traffic on our sidewalk and in our restaurant,” said Shannon Greenwood, the restaurant’s director of sales and marketing. “The team owner, staff, and some of the players have visited on multiple occasions. The summer is typically a quiet time for us, so we are extremely pleased to have some excitement going on downtown.”
Katherine O’Donnell of Richmond Region Tourism (RRT) said, “It’s very hard in the first year for anyone to predict who’s going to be where…you don’t really know.”
But even if visitors didn’t visit local businesses, that doesn’t mean that they won’t one day. She said RRT has data showing 93 percent of new visitors return to Richmond, and 44% of those return in the same year. So, just because Redskins fans didn’t visit local businesses and museums while they were here for camp, they may return to do so since many fans are only 90 minutes away.
The president of RRT, Jack Berry, said the tourism bureau certainly considers traveler expenses (i.e. what tourists spent at local businesses) when measuring successful tourism. But it’s just one part in gauging the overall success of the Redskins camp. The other two parts are media exposure1 and capital investment, such as the Redskins’ $200,000 grant to a local high school, or the new infrastructure Bon Secours negotiated with the City.
Berry and O’Donnell said that the RRT will send out email surveys to camp visitors that solicit fan opinions along with travel and spending habits while they were in town. RRT will organize that data for insight into visitor behaviors, data that could be used to find ways to modify next year’s camp for further regional advantage. It’s unknown when those findings will be released.
Although some business owners complained about a drop off in foot traffic, O’Donnell believes the team’s presence is invaluable to broader tourism efforts. “Having the Redskins brand identified with Richmond is priceless,” she said.
But business owners would still like to see a direct correlation between the Redskins camp and a boost in sales. Just because his business and others suffered during training camp, Bill Webb of The Dairy Bar isn’t throwing in the towel.
“It can’t be perfect the first year,” he said, cautioning that “you’re going to learn a lot.” But in time, he thinks the City and businesses will figure out how to cash in on the added tourism. “Five years from today, I think you’ll see the benefits from this whole Redskins thing,” Webb said.
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photo by Mobilus In Mobili