Downtown cafe owner Christine Sherer eagerly awaits the half-Ironman triathlon – and its boost in business – each fall.
The 70.3-mile athletic event, now in its seventh year in Augusta, arrives on Sept. 27, but Sherer sees a 15 percent bump in sales at The New Moon Cafe on Broad Street during the whole weekend from athletes fueling up before the race as well as from spectators.
Smoothies, egg sandwiches and any items full of protein or complex carbohydrates are popular options that weekend, Sherer said.
“The day before the race, those folks just can’t get enough to eat,” she said. “The next day, we see the families of the (athletes) and then at the end of the race, after they finish, they come back and eat more.”
Sherer said extra revenue generated from the Ironman competition is in addition to her earnings from another big event in downtown Augusta – the Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival, which traditionally falls a weekend or so before the race. Sherer said her business receives another 15 percent sales increase from the arts festival.
“It’s one 20-day period of craziness,” she said. “It’s awesome. I love it.”
According to projections released by the Augusta Sports Council and Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Ironman event could generate about $4.1 million in direct visitor spending throughout the weekend. That number, calculated by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, includes money spent by visitors in local hotels, restaurants and stores.
More than 3,400 athletes from around the world are expected to participate in the competition, and about 8,000 visitors are estimated to come to the city for the event, said Stacie Adkins, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council.
Adkins said that athletes will come to and stay in Augusta in the weeks leading up to the Ironman for training. She expects that while downtown restaurants and stores will benefit from an increase in sales activity, businesses in Surrey Center and along Washington Road also should see an increase.
“The Augusta Sports Council hopes Augusta embraces these guests and welcomes them with true Southern hospitality,” she said. “We are asking all local businesses to place ‘Welcome Ironman’ on any signage or billboards.”
The triathlon consists of a 1.2-mile swim on the Savannah River, a 56-mile bike through Aiken County and a 13.1-mile run through downtown Augusta.
This is the first of a three-year agreement that will secure the competition in Augusta for the near future, Adkins added.
“It definitely has a positive impact on us, and it kind of creates a little bit of a ripple effect,” said Drew Jordan, manager at Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse on 13th Street.
“Some people see that race and then get inspired by seeing others out there doing it.”
Jordan said that though a percentage of how much business increases is difficult to calculate, an uptick is noticeable beginning in August and spanning through October. Most of their customers are from across the Southeast and seek out the bike shop for service work and equipment, such as drivetrains and cables that tend to wear out during such a race.
The store is also frequented by Ironman participants looking to buy last-minute items, including nutritional products and CO2 cartridges, which are not allowed on planes, Jordan said.
At the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center on Reynolds Street, rooms for Saturday before the race are already 98 percent booked, while Friday and Sunday nights are filling up quickly, said vice president and general manager Darryl Leech.
The 372-room riverfront hotel typically sells out for the event, with some guests making reservations close to a year in advance, said Leech, adding that other Augusta hotels on Claussen and Washington roads also fill up for the sporting event.
“From parking to restaurants, it’s just full throttle,” he said. “It’s a really good shot in the arm for downtown Augusta.”
The Ironman and the TechNet Augusta conference in late August rank only behind the Masters Tournament as top economic drivers for the hotel, Leech said.