GRAND RAPIDS — With a teardown of Olympic proportions taking place in Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids is scoring the effect of the Winter Games on local businesses.
The influence of the Winter Games across the country apparently is well represented in Grand Rapids, too, touching areas including retail shops, winter sports facilities and travel agencies.
Planning for the Olympics began in the late ’90s and people began thinking about traveling to Salt Lake City soon after that. Mary Ann Smith, corporate agent for Antor Travel Agency, said there were many inquiries regarding Olympic travel about a year ago, but due to lack of confirmation from Salt Lake City hotels, people were unable to secure reservations.
“A lot of people were looking for the cost of hotel rooms, and because the hotels wouldn’t confirm a specific price, people couldn’t book anything,” she said. “There was a lot more interest nine months ago, but due to recent events and a lack of information, there were not many inquiries when the games got closer — and I have barely sent anyone to Utah.”
She added that it really couldn’t have been due to flight prices because, while hotels were asking a higher price than usual, prices were very reasonable for flights to Salt Lake City. Instead of booking hotel rooms, she said, “People that I did see going had made private arrangements.”
Another explanation Smith attributes to the slow Olympic travel is due to the upcoming spring break travel season.
“The winter games always hit right before spring break, where families have already booked trips to warm destinations,” she said. “People are not willing to give up their warm trips to go to the cold Olympics.”
Some who decided not to travel to the Olympics but instead stayed home can emulate the games practically in their own backyard. The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, home to luge medallist Mark Grimmette and one of only four luge tracks in the United States, is accessible to the public. The public is encouraged to try the luge track, along with ice-skating rinks, cross country ski trails and a ski jump. The track has been open only sporadically this winter, mainly due to mild weather.
In the late ’80s a group of Muskegon people conceived the idea of building a luge and bobsled run that would serve as an Olympic training site. With efforts focused on the creation and operation of a luge track, the idea gained community support and state funding.
Officials of the complex said that while the luge track has not seen many runs during the winter games, they hope that people will be inspired by Grimmette, who brings home a silver medal in the doubles luge event.
Cannonsburg Ski Lodge feels the Winter Games have been good for business, but unfortunately the weather has played a negative role.
“We are in the middle of the Winter Games and we are a winter recreation business, so it is, of course, good for business, but we rely more on the weather to determine how business is,” said Rick VanTongeren, director of skiing.
“The entire time of the games hasn’t especially seen a lot of traffic, because the weather hasn’t been that great, but as soon as it gets below freezing we turn the (snow making) guns on,” added VanTongeren.
He added that snowboarding has been on the rise in recent years and with the U.S. bringing home a handful of medals in snowboarding, it is expected to continue to climb in popularity.
Area sports equipment stores have also seen the effect of the Winter Games. Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus reportedly has had a very good February.
“This has been a very good month and we definitely attribute some of that to the exposure of the Olympics,” said Jon Holmes, store manager.
He added that while an increase in sales also coincided with the store’s final winter markdown and the third snow of the season, he has seen customers particularly looking for sweaters and snowboards.
“Sales have definitely been better in snowboards, and we also credit the Olympics with that,” Holmes said. “We swept the medals in that area and that surely helped make it a very good month.”
VanTongeren said that sales in the Cannonsburg ski shop have also been promising. “Kids watch the Olympics and the elite athletes, and they see what they are wearing on their feet,” he said. “If it is winning, they go out and buy it.”