Race spectators didn’t spike sales, local vendors upset about profit declines

Photo by Brooke Marsh

Adriel Velazquez

Contributing Writer

Officials announced 650,000 spectators visited Richmond for the bike race last month, but businesses and popup vendors reported heavy losses during the week — indicating that the race wasn’t a catalyst for profits.

Some businesses are blaming the media for scaring away potential customers. During the weeks leading up to the UCI World Championships, local news organizations stressed how nearly half a million people would be in Richmond, and emphasized there would be heavy traffic and many signs on the highway bluntly told locals to avoid downtown.

I think there was a lot of alienation put in place by the media and by the local government that kind of scared people away during the first part of the race,” said Camille Bird, co-owner of Sacred Waters spa and boutique in Carytown, and the president of the Carytown Merchants Association.

Sacred Waters was one of the vendors who participated in the New Normal Bike Bazaar event aimed at featuring local commerce.

Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh

But I will tell you that the one thing about Richmond, and events like this, is that I find they do not embrace their local commerce at all,” Bird said. “They kind of create this bubble and want to exist within that bubble and not reach out to the community partners … even the beautiful historical things that they have here.”

Other local vendors had similar thoughts to Bird’s sentiment. Patrick Godfrey is the owner of Velocity Comics on West Broad street. Godfrey said he expected a decrease in sales during the race, but not to the extent that they dropped.

Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh

We lost thousands,” Godfrey said. “I cut my employees’ hours significantly during the race because hardly anyone came in here … The city scared them away.”

With VCU students off campus and fears of long traffic delays, the weekdays of the race left the streets of Richmond empty without much foot traffic, to the point the Richmond Times-Dispatch referred to Richmond as a “ghost-town” in the headline of a Sept. 21 article.

Godfrey said that during the race week, Velocity had a 60 percent decrease in sales. Unlike Bird, however, he said he does not blame the media, because he thinks they were only relaying the information they received from the city.

There’s probably going to be a public talk about it,” Godfrey said. “They’re going to have to talk about what happened and how the local businesses were affected.”

Food vendors were also upset because of the many road closures. Blockades made it difficult for vendors to buy more food because they had no exit route from their locations. This forced businesses to buy the week’s inventory before the race, but most of it went unsold.

The absence of VCU students may have also been contributed to those significant losses.

I think one of their (Richmond’s) biggest mistakes … was closing VCU and not allowing that group of people to tap into the activities,” Bird said. “People were showing 60 to 70 percent less in sales than the same time last year with no event, so there was zero local traffic.”

Despite these hindrances, business began to pick up over the weekend during the expected “high impact” days as the more competitive races began. Shane Cusick is the founder of Pello Bikes, a local bike producer that hosted a successful pop-up during the race.

We had a great turnout for our pop-up shop, and collected a lot of information on potential customers,” Cusick said. “We are not scheduled to receive our bikes until the spring so all the traffic generated at the Pop-up Revolution was fantastic.”

Businesses that were farther removed from the race did not attract as many customers, even on the busy weekend. However, business owners remain optimistic for the future.

What an honor to be in the city that hosted (UCI 2015),” Bird said. “I hope that future events like this can happen, and that this city can learn and that they can learn to embrace the local commerce and let all the people win in a creative way.”

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