Normally, the arrival of tens of thousands of people descending on Philadelphia for a weeklong convention would have the city’s businesses laying in additional supplies and hiring temporary help.
After all, everyone coming to the Democratic National Convention needs a place to stay, food and drink, taxis and souvenirs. And when they’re not politicking, they’ll be looking for other ways to spend their money. Right?
Not so fast.Last year’s papal visit taught Philly business owners a hard lesson: don’t count your profits until the money’s in hand.
“We’re skeptical after the pope,” says Schotland McQuaide, manager of Good Dog Bar in Center City. “It was great for bringing people in [to the city], but bad for business.”
Hundreds of thousands of Catholics attended last September’s World Meeting of Families led by Pope Francis, but it was no economic boon for Phileadelphia. Hotel rooms went unbooked; normally bustling downtown streets were deserted as locals either stayed home or feld the city; pilgrims hung onto their money.
But a national political convention is a much different animal, and business owners are optimistic this time they’ll see the anticipated payoff.
Many hotels are fully booked even in outlying areas, and any rooms still available are going for a premium.
According to its website, a room at the boutique Hotel Palomar Philadelphia in Rittenhouse Squarecosts $699 per night next week, with a five-night minimum.
“Rates are typically in the $200 [range per night] for a typical July week,” said Palomar GeneralManager MarkHayes. “Rates are probably three to four times that compared to a typical July.”
Hayes predicts that convention attendees will be willing to spend more on food and beverage than visitors who came to celebrate Mass with the pope.
“It’s a different type of traveler and a larger budget,” he said.
Another encouraging difference for business is not as many city streets and areas will be closed or fenced off as they were for the papal visit, which further discouraged locals from going about their daily routines.
“We’re hoping that locals aren’t scared off,” saidSarah Levitsky of Reading Terminal Market.
For Levitsky and the vendors in Reading Terminal, the tricky part may be when to expect a rush of customers.
“The schedules for the delegates and everyone coming in are a little unpredictable from our perspective,” says Levitsky. “We’re not sure how to gaugewhen people will come in.”
The Market, at 12th and Arch streets, wants to open at 7 a.m. to try and draw in the breakfast crowd before the daytime DNC events at the Wells Fargo Center and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
McQuaide, of the Good Dog Bar, is taking a more Zen-like view of the convention and his business’ prospects.
“We’re ordering more [supplies] in anticipation of the influx of people, but we just assume everyone will either come, or they won’t,” says McQuaide.