RAGBRAI impact on local economy strong, with some exceptions

A+bartender+rushes+to+fill+orders+for+beer+at+Big+Grove+Brewery+during+RAGBRAI+on+July+27%2C+2018.+Riders+rode+from+Sigourney+to+Iowa+City+on+Day+6+of+this+years+event.+%28Katina+Zentz%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29

Katina Zentz

A bartender rushes to fill orders for beer at Big Grove Brewery during RAGBRAI on July 27, 2018. Riders rode from Sigourney to Iowa City on Day 6 of this year’s event. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

After around seven months of planning, thousands of riders on RAGBRAI made their way into Iowa City for an overnight stop for the first time in more than four decades and spent an estimated $1.3 million on local businesses.

As they made their way into town, riders were welcomed by signs, the Hawkeye Spirit Squad, and community members before heading to the main campground at City Park. On the night of July 27, the town hosted a big celebration downtown with vendors, live music, and alcohol, a format similar to the city Block Party held earlier this summer.

Although the final numbers will take some time to tally, the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that around 20,000 riders came into Iowa City creating an economic impact of north of $1.3 million.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said that the event met or exceeded all of his expectations, and the many city employees, planners, and volunteers did a great job of making the town a welcoming place for the cyclists.

RELATED: Video: RAGBRAI in Iowa City

“I was impressed by the great work that all the volunteers did,” Throgmorton said. “I sensed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm on the part of the RAGBRAI riders. Everyone that I spoke with seemed to have a great time.”

Nick Pfeiffer, the director of marketing & communications for the Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he hopes the event allowed riders who had never been to Iowa City to see the community and everything that it has to offer.

“Seventy percent of RAGBRAI riders aren’t even from Iowa, and it gives them a glimpse of what our city has to offer so that they will want to come back and visit sometime in the future,” Pfeiffer said.

With thousands of visitors in town, many local businesses had plans in place to deal with the large crowd, and they met with mixed levels of success.

Chris De Saulniers, the store director at the Waterfront Hy-Vee, located just off of Gilbert Street where RAGBRAI came into town, said although he didn’t have any official count on the number of riders who visited his store, the event had a positive effect on business. He said the store was extra busy on July 27 as well as for breakfast on the morning of July 28 as riders left town.

“We had a constant run of bikes parked in front of the store and the Market Grille from about 10 a.m. through the evening; 20-30 bikes at any given time,” De Saulniers said.

RELATED: A night to remember: RAGBRAI stops in Iowa City

The Airliner, 22 S. Clinton St., which was inside the open-container area on July 27, was also affected by the influx of people. General manager Patrick McBreen said the establishment had a very good day of sales for the end of July.

He said the staff treated RAGBRAI similar to other events, such as the Block Party and home football games, by having extra workers on duty and giving the kitchen a few days to prepare.

“We sold a ton of food, we sold a ton of beer,” McBreen said. “It was a good thing to be a part of.”

However, not all businesses saw the positive effect that they had expected. Doug Alberhasky John’s Grocery said he, along with many other businesses on Iowa City’s North Side, saw nowhere near the level of business that they had expected.

Most of the riders spent much of the day in other towns farther south, including Riverside and Hills, he said, before trickling into Iowa City. When they did, most went downtown and stayed away from his business, he said. He also said that his regular in-town customers had difficulty getting to the store because adjacent streets were closed.

“I think downtown did pretty well if you were within the open-container zone, but the fact that everybody in the North Side was out of it, we got very few riders stopping, and it was just a huge disappointment,” Alberhasky said. “In the North Side, we were anticipating getting quite a few riders because we have so many great restaurants, and we really rolled out the red carpet, and it was just a big disappointment.”

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