Old Town Alexandria turns green this Saturday for the 29th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The first in the nation, it initiates Irish American Month. Local merchants, restaurateurs and hotels hope that this year’s event translates into foldable greenbacks after a financially feeble February.
As a crowd pleaser, the parade plus accompanying Invitational Classic Car Show and Fun Dog Show are one of the top events in the city. But that doesn’t mean it produces income for local businesses.
While most restaurants along the King Street parade route give it a thumbs up, many merchants have a different take on its stimulus ability and hotels are split on its productivity. However, with all the pent up need by the populous to get out and about after their forced confinement to an igloo, this parade may just be the pre-spring kick-start the local economy needs.
“The parade brings in between $500,000 and $1 million to the local economy every year,” claimed parade founder and primary spokesperson Pat Troy, owner of Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own Restaurant and Pub on North Pitt Street.
The parade and the summer Irish Festival are both operated under the aegis of The Ballyshaners organization. Costs for the parade and its affiliated events top $40,000 for the Ballyshaners, according to Troy. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a several hour event, is the only line of march that crosses Alexandria’s three main traffic arteries, Patrick, Henry and Washington streets, requiring increased police presence.
Beginning with this parade, city costs for each of the city’s three annual parades George Washington’s Birthday, Scottish Walk and St. Patrick’s Day will require reimbursement from parade organizers, according to Jack Browand, Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs and chair of the city’s Special Events Committee.
“Each parade will be required to reimburse the city for 30 percent of its costs involving all city services personnel, equipment, etcetera,” Browand said. “Beginning in 2011 that will increase to 50 percent. “
The city estimated that its costs for the 2009 St. Patrick’s Day Parade were approximately $35,000. If that figure is duplicated this year, the Ballyshaners will be required to pay the city an estimated $10,500 under the new policy, based on the tight city budget.
Conversely, there seems to be no estimate as to how much income these events bring to the city and its businesses.
“I have been trying for 10 years to get figures from the city on how much business is generated,” Troy said. “They just won’t give it to me or they don’t have it.”
Neither the Alexandria Convention&Visitors Association nor the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce could supply any data on the parades as an economic stimulus. However, Chamber President and CEO Tina Leone indicated the financial impact was minimal and possibly worked against retail merchants.
“From what my Old Town members tell me and my own observations, parades might be somewhat helpful to restaurants but hurt retailers in Old Town,” Leone said. “It seems counterproductive, but it actually seems to drive those people who only want to shop away from Old Town.”
Leone blamed large crowds, parking problems, closed streets and the lack of adequate signage directing visitors to the city’s numerous parking garages.
“We are always very busy before and after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” said Bart Paz, manager of Bugsy’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar. “It’s one of our best Saturdays.”
Both the Austin Grill and Murphy’s also credit the parade as a real business booster.
“We definitely are much busier than normal throughout the day of the St. Patrick’s parade,” said Austin Grill bartender Brandy Clark.
For Murphy’s it was described as “a huge day for us well into the night.”
However, there are restaurants that see little or no impact from parade crowds.
“If it’s a nice Saturday the people come here like any other Saturday. There’s really no impact from the parade,” said Katy Pirner, manager of The Chart House.
That was also the reaction from Troy Clayton, owner of Geranio Ristorante on upper King Street, who said, “Weekends are busy for us anyway. We don’t see much change as a result of the parade.”
For Gossypia owner Amanda Lasker, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a “mixed bag” for her retail business. She explained, “A lot of our regular customers can’t get here because of the blocked streets. We do okay before and after the parade. Hopefully, some of those coming in will enable me to pick up new customers.”