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Fishing derby boosts local economy

Events like this weekend's American Legion Ice Fishing Contest bring more than anglers to town, they bring dollars, but who benefits from the extra income depends on the event.

Area motels were full last weekend between the snowmobile race and the hockey tournament, but are not reporting a big influx for the fishing derby.

Motels benefit from two-day events

"It doesn't put a lot of heads in beds," general manager Gail Lockram of AmericInn said when asked if the fishing derby helps their business.

"If there's good snow, it's a different scenario because then they will stay an extra day to ride," she said. "Otherwise, in years like this (when conditions aren't ideal for snowmobiling), most people are coming from less than two hours away and when the event is done, they just go home. We were full when the USXC snowmobile race and hockey tournament were in town."

Super 8 motel staff also reported full occupancy last weekend (Jan. 19-20) when the snowmobile races and hockey tournament were in town, but as of Friday Jan. 26 only had five or six rooms reserved for the fishing derby weekend.

Helping the local economy

Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber Director Butch DeLaHunt said events that occur over multiple days obviously have a bigger impact on lodging facilities, but any event that brings people to town helps the economy.

"People who attend these events are eating at restaurants, buying gas and groceries and supporting other local businesses," DeLaHunt said. "When an event like American Legion fishing derby sells 4,500 tickets that brings people to town from Fargo/Moorhead, Grand Forks and Sioux Falls that wouldn't be here otherwise. They may not be staying in hotels because they are staying in their fish house on the lake, but they are celebrating the rapidly growing industry of ice fishing and attending that event may become a family tradition that keeps them coming back every year."

DeLaHunt said that, during times when snow conditions are not ideal for snowmobiling or cross-country skiing, it is nice to be able to celebrate winter in other ways.

"Each event attracts a different demographic to town," he said. "That's especially important during the shoulder seasons. The more events we can put on to bring people to our community the better."

Bait shops expect a busy Saturday

Obviously, bait shops are hoping to benefit from anglers coming in for bait and supplies. Josh Severtson is in fishing sales at the Smokey Hills Outdoor Store and says he sees customers from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota coming in the doors during the fishing derby.

"It's not only locals, but people who park (their fish house) on the lake for the weekend and that number of people looking for bait and jigs keeps us pretty darned busy, especially on derby day."

Grey May, owner of the Northern Bait Company for 25 years, agreed. "The fishing derby definitely helps business," he said. "We plan to have a couple of extra people working Saturday."

Mike Lien and Will Wicks purchased Delaney's in April of 2017, so this will be their first derby experience.

"It sounds like a hopping and popular event, and obviously with more than 4,000 people signed up, we're hoping it brings in a lot of business," he said. "After talking to the previous owners, we're beefing up our staff for the weekend. We anticipate, as long as the weather holds up, it will be a very busy weekend."

Restaurant reviews are mixed

Whether restaurants benefit from weekend events depends on who you talk to.

At Rocky's Pizza, manager Andrew Gabriel says, "Absolutely! It brings people in from out of town and also brings in local families who have out-of-town relatives come up for a winter reunion to do a fun activity together."

Julie Shepersky, A&W restaurant owner, said this is their first winter owning the business. "The winter events definitely help us," she said. "It's a positive thing and brings a lot of business to town."

Dave Kowalke, owner of the West Forty restaurant, says his business seems to depend more on the weather and Vikings games.

"Business has been a little down this winter because of the freezing cold weather," he said. "Also when the Vikings are playing, people tend to stay home and watch the game. Otherwise, we are pretty much even throughout the week. Our customers are mostly local."

Grocery stores see "spikes" around events

Coborn's Grocery Store Assistant Manager Kirk Hatten said when weekend events are scheduled, the biggest impact is sales before and after the event.

"Anything going on in town captures sales before and after," he said. "We do have extra traffic when events are in town, but people usually put off shopping during the event time. Groceries are something people need year round, so our business stays pretty steady even when there aren't events in town."

At Hugo's, store director Dan Zimmerman said they see an increase in their business as well.

"We see a spike the Friday before the day of the event," he said. "I think most of it is people buying groceries for out-of-town guests coming to visit. Our bakery also sells a lot of doughnuts the morning of the event. We also see increases for events like the Superbowl."

Gas stations benefit from increased traffic

Nancy Lewis owns four gas stations in the area: two in Park Rapids, one in Nevis and one in Akeley. She is also the director of the Nevis Civic and Commerce Association.

"Any events that draw people to the area or that bring locals out definitely have a positive impact on area businesses," she said. "People stop for gas and also pick up supplies. There's rarely a weekend with 'nothing' going on, but the larger community events have a bigger impact than some of the smaller events. Winter is always questionable because business depends on snow, ice, and weather. A lot of it is weather-driven. Summer is intrinsically busy, but we still need to have events to draw people who are in the area into each community."

Liquor stores see increased sales, too

"There's definitely an influx from weekend events," Dorset Corners owner Missy Rossman said. "We haven't had good snow for the last few winters, so anything that helps bring people into the area is good."

Manager Scott Olson at Rapids Spirit takes a broader outlook, noting that while some events bring customers into the liquor store and some don't, having more customers in the area helps everyone. "Anything going on that brings customers into Park Rapids to spend their money here is a benefit," he said. "Some events bring a good number of people into the downtown, and when the downtown is busy and successful we all benefit. It is a trickle-down effect because it brings staff and wages they spend in the region."