(Baltimore Sun photo/Kenneth…)
The Baltimore Grand Prix's effect on restaurant business was as unpredictable as a tornado. I spoke with restaurant owners who told me they had their best Labor Day weekend ever. But business was off elsewhere, sometimes way off.
Business was off in Canton, Fells Point and Little Italy, some of whose restaurant owners will be meeting with race organizers next week to discuss what can be done next year and beyond to bring more business east of President Street. Pedicabs and other shuttles sound like a good idea.
But it could turn be an uphill battle. Race attendees spend likely their money inside the grounds. A day at the races is exhausting, too -- not everyone is going to want to go for dinner afterward.
Nick's Fish House did everything a business could to promote itself. They participated in the event's general marketing push, distributed hundreds of coupons and even ran a shuttle service to and from the event. But, according to manager Theresa Shoemaker, the Port Covington seafood restaurant had its worst Labor Day weekend ever.
Not only didn't some restaurants get the visitors, they didn't get their regulars, either. Shoemaker didn't blame the Baltimore Grand Prix. She, along with other restaurant owners I spoke with, were blaming the local television news. "They told people not to come Downtown," Shoemaker said.
As it happened, it was easy to get around most of Baltimore, even within blocks of the event. If local tv stations did put the scare into Baltimore residents, that's shabby.
Restaurants can always help themselves. Telling your customers about alternate routes to your restaurant is why social media like Twitter and Facebook were invented. Although the Prime Rib did it the old-fashioned way, by calling its regular customers and assuring that they'd have no trouble getting to Mount Vernon. (Elsewhere, businesses who were separated by security fencing from thousands of Grand Prix attendees may have taken cafe of themselves the really old-fashioned way.)
The take away from the first year: With the exception of Thursday evening rush hour, people got where they needed to go, by and large. Restaurants will do well if it's scheduled for Labor Day weekend next near, provided Baltimoreans stay in town and support their hometown restaurants.