Area booked full for Grandma's Marathon
For the past three weeks, the phone at Wayne Schablitsky's Northwoods Motel has been ringing regularly with Grandma's marathoners -- along with fur trap conventioneers and boat racers -- hunting for a room the weekend of June 16. "It's just too b...
For the past three weeks, the phone at Wayne
Schablitsky's Northwoods Motel has been ringing regularly with Grandma's marathoners -- along with fur trap conventioneers and boat racers -- hunting for a room the weekend of June 16.
"It's just too bad it all comes on the same weekend," he said. "I feel bad that I have to say 'sorry.' "
Schablitsky's story is fairly common among hoteliers across the region, even if his hotel is in Barnum, about
40 miles away from the race finish line in Duluth's Canal Park.
As for Duluth hotel owners, many said they've been booked solid since last year, and that's at higher-than-
normal room rates that require a two-night minimum stay.
Grandma's brings to Duluth an estimated $9 million a year, from people spending money on rooms, gas, restaurants, shopping and bars, said Gene Shaw of Visit Duluth, the city's convention and visitors bureau. The race will draw up to 60,000 people, including more than 17,000 runners.
"I think it has a huge economic impact on our community," said Grandma's Marathon Executive Director Scott Keenan.
Keenan said a survey that race coordinators conducted last year might put the number of people who come here for the race even higher. He said each runner brings with him or her up to five people, especially since they've added kid races, a 5k and a half-marathon.
Keenan said that since the marathon began in 1977, the race has generated an estimated $151.6 million for Duluth. He also noted that Grandma's own budget, much of which is spent locally, is up to $2.6 million.
"What the race has done is kick off the summer season even earlier," said John Goldfine, president of ZMC Hotels, which owns four hotels in Duluth and the Vista Fleet of scenic tour boats. "It used to not start here until the July 4 weekend. And more important than that is how Grandma's is our advertising campaign for the city. It promotes us not only to Minneapolis, but nationally."
Grandma's Marathon was the United State's 12th-largest marathon in 2006. But not every business owner benefits from the city's undisputed premier event. A lot of locals avoid the marathon crowds and skip town for the lake or family vacations, or just stay at home.
Frank Mertz, president of Johnson Mertz Appliances on Haines Road, said Grandma's traditionally is one of the slowest days of the year for them.
"I'm sure it helps the economy, but to be honest, we don't see any direct correlation," Mertz said. "In general, any nice Saturday is slow for us. But if you come in, you're going to get lots of attention."
Super One Food's Lakeside grocery store is just a block from the route along London Road. But the streets and parking lot can become clogged with race spectators, keeping regular Saturday morning shoppers away, store manager John Rackliffe said. They do get people coming in for small items like water, pop and candy.
"We understand that it's not a panacea for all businesses in Duluth," Goldfine said. "There are access problems for the day and [we] need to be sensitive about that."
The route is closed from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, but many parts are opened as soon as the last runners pass, Keenan said.
Goldfine said the race has been a catalyst for a lot of Canal Park's development.
Charlie Lemon of the Duluth Hospitality League, made up mostly of tavern owners, said Grandma's is great for the city as a whole, but Canal Park bars and restaurants benefit the most. That's also where the race expo, spaghetti feed and band tents all are.
"It's really kind of captivated in Canal Park," Lemon said. "They do quite well. And of course, they started it down there, so you can't blame them."
Lemon also owns The Reef bar and lounge along the race course, which he said does very well on race day. But when he owned a bar just a block from the course downtown, he said it didn't affect business.
"I think it's important that people know that special events do a lot for the community," Keenan said. "Besides the business side, we showcase Duluth at its best. And we believe people enjoy their stay during the marathon and return numerous times during the year."
The economic impact of Grandma's Marathon, with its course along majestic Lake Superior, goes well beyond Duluth's city limits.
Mary Henry of Bluefin Bay Resort, 100 miles away in Tofte, said they are filled up for Grandma's weekend.
"A lot of people make a mini-vacation out of it," she said. "They come up from Chicago or the Twin Cities on Thursday and stay as long as Sunday. ... You can always tell the runners. They never drink coffee, always water, and they are really excited."