Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Equestrian Games bring the world to Midway; impact may not be as much as some expected

By Rachel Bryant
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The world has come to Midway. The World Equestrian Games kicked off Saturday, bringing people from all across the globe to the Bluegrass.

The two week-long event looks to be a promising source of business for downtown Midway, as tourists filled the shops this past weekend, but it remains to be seen whether the impact of the games will be as large as some people had hoped or expected.

The Grey Goose restaurant and bar started serving people from other countries Wednesday night, but started seeing a noticeable increase in business on Saturday evening. The busiest time was after 9 p.m. when groups came in for late-night snacks. “The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. but we will keep it open as long as people are coming in,” said manager Jeff Wheeler. The Grey Goose is taking reservations only for groups of 10 people or larger during the games.

While most business people interviewed said they were happy with the games’ first weekend, restaurant owner Rob Vandegrift said it was slower than he had expected. He has extended his hours but says if business does not pick up during the week he will revert back to regular hours.

Vandegrift believes that the beer and food concession at the temporary recreational-vehicle campground at Midway Station are taking away potential customers from downtown. Mayor Tom Bozarth disagreed, saying many people at the park are workers or volunteers at the games, putting in 12-hour days and too tired to come downtown. Also, he said overall attendance at the games appears to have been less than expected. "No one knew how many people would be here," he said.

But by definition, people in an RV park keep and cook their own food. Margaret Hansen, a trainer from Poland, walked from the campground to downtown, about a mile and a half, Saturday afternoon to look around the shops. Asked if she came to town for food, she said, “No, we have our own food at the trailer. I stocked up for the week.”

Hansen brought three of her pupils with her to the U.S. She said that she always attends the World Equestrian Games to watch the dressage event. “It’s like ballet on horses,” she said.

Marcelo and Grace Decoud of Argentina found their way downtown Sunday evening for coffee The Grey Goose, thanks to Jill Ryder, editor of The Carriage Journal, because she thought it was a place they would enjoy seeing.

Marcelo Decoud owns The Carlos Hillner Decoud Carriage Museum in Quilmes, Argentina, near Buenos Aires. He said The Carriage Association of America brought him to the U.S. as a spectator but he also helped with the carriages in the opening ceremony Saturday night.

Mary May Sayre, owner of May & Co., was pleased with the turnout at her antiques-and-collectibles store over the weekend. “I felt like it was [Midway’s] Fall Festival again with so many people,” she said.

Saturday was filled with a consistent flow of visitors. Sayre described the shoppers as positive people who were really having a good time and enjoying Midway.

“There have been a lot of really interested people, people who are interested in horses and in the area," she said. "We are definitely selling the destination of Midway."

Like many other store owners, Sayre has decided to stay open seven days a week with extended hours, until the games are over.

Damselfly Gallery owner Mary Thoreson said more people visited her store last weekend than normal, but it was too early to tell if sales were up.

Knowing that the games were going to be close to Midway, she decided to put together the Damselfly Gallery Courtyard Art Fair with her husband Eric, to attract people to Midway and showcase Kentucky artists to the world during the games. In support of the games, they hung flags over the courtyard representing each country that is competing. (See next story.)

While the games have just started, it’s hard to say how busy Midway is going to be. But with the first weekend over, it looks to bring a promising group of consumers to the shops, while the restaurants contend with competition across the interstate.

“We’re trying to sell: Come to Midway, have a good time, eat, drink and enjoy,” Sayre said. “It makes Midway look even better when people are having a good time.”

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