RNC Guests at Hotels, But Don't Stick Around to Shop
Many visiting the area for the RNC packed Clearwater beach hotels, but they are spending their money elsewhere, not in local eateries or watering holes.
Businesses along Clearwater Beach braced themselves this week not just for Tropical Storm Isaac, but for the mass of Republicans arriving for the RNC.
Isaac passed by and so, too, did the RNC visitors, though the Republicans are staying here.
What local business officials had hoped would be a packed beach was sparsely populated on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. It has been that way all week, said Liz Lajoy of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Influx of business "has not been as much as we expected," Lajoy said.
On the morning of the last day of the convention, Lajoy isn't sure business will pick up. Officials are crossing their fingers that some of the hundreds who did stay at Clearwater-area hotels stick around for the long Labor Day weekend.
"That would be great but I don't know that they are," Lajoy said. "It would be nice" if the delegates stayed.
It seems the lack of foot traffic and less than expected influx of dollars were due to a combination of things, said Joyce Ostrander, manager of Crabby Bill's on Clearwater Beach.
"I think the issue is not having a [national party] convention here before, we prepared for a very large bump," Ostrander said. "We added staff and everything and [the increase in business] hasn't happened.
"The hotels are filled, but the people are gone. The buses come and take them away. Our sales are actually way down."
Many of those coming to the convention are whisked away each day for pre-planned group luncheons, dinners and functions or for the business at hand in Tampa.
Ostrander also said part of the lack of business from the RNC is due to the long tentacles of Tropical Storm Isaac, which this time last week seemed poised to hit the area. So much so, the RNC postponed Monday's events.
"I had heard [RNC visitors] had planned on bringing their families but because of Isaac, the families opted not to come."
So the families who would have stayed on the beach all week never showed up.
"We are glad they came, but the beach is dead," Ostrander said.
Businesses are hoping the long holiday weekend, combined with the start of football, will result in a boost in income, but that is not likely to come from RNC visitors.
"From the few I have talked to, they are leaving town" once the RNC is over, Ostrander said.
Misty Wells, the director of sales for Shephard's Beach Resort, had a slightly different take on the paltry foot traffic. She thought that locals and regulars, also expecting crowds from the RNC, stayed away.
Oh, and Isaac didn't help matters either.
"We have the South Dakota delegation staying with us and they have had functions with us," Wells said. "The South Dakota delegation has been wonderful and the other delegates I have met have been amazing."
Wells said the South Dakota delegation and its functions at the resort have "offset" whatever the resort lost in limited foot traffic and those who canceled due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
Though the RNC ends this evening, the RNC won't end at Shephard's quite as fast. The resort is hosting an RNC-themed party with drink discounts and no cover charge.