President Donald Trump's June 20 visit to Duluth may have snarled traffic, but it also gave many downtown businesses an economic boost, as recently released tourism tax receipts confirm.
Gerry Goldfarb, general manager of Duluth's Holiday Inn & Suites, said he saw increased hotel room bookings and restaurant sales days before the president's arrival, as the commander in chief's advance security detail prepared for the visit.
Often there's a bit of a lull in the days after Grandma's Marathon, but Goldfarb said Trump's appearance made for solid post-race business this year straight into the ensuing week, with business cresting Wednesday when the president took the stage.
"We saw a nice overspill of people looking for places to eat and places to buy stuff. I really feel the hotel and lodging industry here saw a real positive two- to three-day impact," he said.
"There were definitely people driving up from the Twin Cities. I spoke to people from North Dakota and even Canada who came down to see the president," Goldfarb said.
The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center hosted the Trump rally, and the facility's executive director, Chelly Townsend, said: "It was definitely a moneymaker for us."
In all, after expenses were factored into the picture, the DECC cleared more than a $54,000 profit from the event.
But Townsend said Trump's campaign stop also was good for the city.
"Our mission is to stimulate tourism and to bring additional tax revenue to Duluth. Besides what they spent at the DECC, we knew very well that they would fill hotel rooms and visit restaurants and see attractions," she said.
Recently released tax collection data showed June tourism spending at local hotels, restaurants and bars was 3.4 percent greater than it was during the same month last year. While it's impossible to tease out exactly how much of that bump can be attributed to Trump's visit, Anna Tanski, president and CEO of Visit Duluth, said the presidential appearance certainly contributed to a strong month for those in the local hospitality industry.
"We do know anecdotally that it definitely had a positive impact when you consider the throngs of people and the traffic it generated," she said. "We know there were a lot of people here, but it's unfortunate that there's no precise way to really drill down and know exactly what the economic impact was."
Regardless, Tanski observed: "It was a bonus to have that sudden influx of business for several days."
"Even if they were here just for the day, they were here early and they stayed late, because the event went well into the evening. So there's no question that it had a positive impact in terms of sales revenue. Whether that offset all the expenses, I don't know," she said.
Together, the city of Duluth and St. Louis County reported spending about a combined $90,000 on increased staffing to ensure the presidential visit went smoothly.
Goldfarb predicts Duluth will continue to prove a popular campaign destination this year, with national attention being showered on the 8th Congressional District race.
"I really feel we'll probably see more visits as we get closer to Election Day, possibly by the president, the vice president or by other big political figures from both sides," he said.
Tanski agreed, saying: "That's definitely a very real possibility for us, and it puts our state and our part of the state in the national spotlight, which of course builds awareness and increases our visibility. It gives us a lot of media exposure we wouldn't otherwise garner."