With the 144th meet at the Saratoga Race Course officially at an end, many downtown business leaders are encouraged by the increased foot traffic and climbing numbers in gross sales when compared to some of the more recent summer seasons.
“It wouldn’t be better than our peak season,” said Jeff Clark, president of the Downtown Business Association (DBA), “but we certainly were better than last year as far as business went. I think it’s fairly safe to say that we’re up about 10 percent [in gross sales] from last year – and in some cases, up significantly more than that, depending on the business.”
With daily track attendance up 0.8 percent and total attendance up 3.4 percent as compared to 2011, the pump was primed for a strong showing for downtown businesses. But the race course wasn’t the only factor driving in tourists and visitors downtown.
“I would actually start by saying we really kicked off the summer at Saratoga with all of the great concerts at SPAC back in June,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “That filled a lot of hotels and restaurants and retail stores. We were also blessed this summer with incredible weather… from June, July and then all the way through August; it was absolutely perfect for a great season.”
While numbers are still being compiled, many are optimistic about the city’s sales tax revenue generated from such a strong season, and, “anecdotally, what I heard from the hoteliers, retailors and restaurateurs is that we were up over the prior couple of years,” said Shinkus. However, “We haven’t yet returned to the hey-day of 2007.”
While overall, gross sale numbers seemed to be up, Clark reported that some business owners reported, “the overall number of sales were down slightly, which is a little bit of a concern. But it was one of only a few concerns I’ve heard about this season.”
National exposure for the Spa City also seemed to help prop it up toward a successful season. The city was featured in one of the first ads run by I Love NY in almost three years; Broadway was named in April as one of the top 10 best main streets in the United States by Travel and Leisure magazine; ABC news named Saratoga in the top five best small city July 4th celebrations; and shots of downtown during the NBC coverage of the race meet were broadcast from coast-to-coast and increased exposure.
“When the camera panned downtown, quite frankly, it was thrilling to see our town portrayed so well on national television,” said Clark.
With many businesses reporting more first-time visitors to their shops and the community than usual, others have begun analyzing some of the early reports from local hotels.
“This was one of those years where [downtown hotels] were able to raise their rates a little bit, where in prior years, discounting was the only way for them to really drive occupancy,” said Shimkus. “I think it was the same on the retail and restaurant side of things. So that’s a trend in the right direction for us.”
While increased traffic, great weather and many sold-out crowds at SPAC helped to fuel the season, the results still weren’t as strong as the city has had in years prior to the 2008 recession.
“The only thing we couldn’t control – sort of the fourth leg of that – is that the national and world economy continues to be challenged,” said Shimkus.
Still, Clark and Shimkus are optimistic about what this season means for future summers in Saratoga, especially come the sesquicentennial celebration at the race course in 2013.
“In 2013, we have a historic opportunity to attract worldwide attention for this area, and that’s related to the 150th celebration of the Saratoga Race Course,” said Shimkus. “We have a committee that’s been working on trying to figure out how to boost the presence of Saratoga worldwide next year. And if we are successful, we have an opportunity next year to really drive some traffic to our community for five months of celebration – unlike we’ve had in a long time.”