Tournament boosts economic activity at Bangor-area businesses

Posted Feb. 20, 2012, at 3:09 p.m.

While basketball fans watch the tournament action, Bangor-area business owners watch their front doors.

As the 2012 Eastern Maine Basketball Tournament kicks off tomorrow at the Bangor Auditorium, local business owners anticipate an economic upsurge. “It’s 10 days for us,” said Christina Thibodeau, general manager at the Odlin Road Days Inn. “Starting Friday [Feb. 17], we get this great boost in occupancy.

“It gets us out of the winter doldrums,” she said.

The tournament “really shortens up the winter,” said Gary Eckmann, who owns the McDonald’s in Bangor and Brewer. “The slowest time we have is from New Year’s Day to tourney time. Then you’ve got that nice week in February that you can count on.

“It always means we need more help on [duty] that week,” he said. For teen-age employees enjoying the February school vacation, the tournament brings more work hours and extra income at Eckmann’s restaurants.

“It means more hours for each employee. It’s every department: We go right back to full staff like it’s peak season in August,” Thibodeau said.

“We do see an upsurge in business,” said Rick Vigue at Rebecca’s in downtown Bangor. “Bangor is the largest city [that] most of these people are coming to” during the winter.

“A lot of people plan to spend the night in Bangor and do some shopping, eat out, enjoy a winter get-away,” he said.

Foot traffic increases substantially for many local businesses during the tournament. “Our occupancy generally goes up 20 percent as [compared] to the rest of February,” Thibodeau said. Interviewed in late January, she noted that “for Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, we have a dozen rooms left out of a hundred, people are booking so far ahead.

“Some will book a year in advance,” Thibodeau said. “Some fans are so loyal, they’ll stay the entire week to watch multiple teams.”

Located at 43-49 Main St., Rebecca’s lies about a mile from the Bangor Auditorium, where construction on the Bangor Arena has eliminated access from Dutton Street. Fans park at Bass Park and on neighboring streets, however, and between sessions, “people are looking for something to do,” Vigue commented.

“Between games, particularly the women, they like to take a break and go shopping,” he said. “Downtown’s proximity to the auditorium helps bring them down here to shop or eat.

“We like to see the fans come. We have a lot of good customers from The County and Washington County,” Vigue said.

Since opening at 427 Main St., Bangor on July 8, 2010, the newest McDonald’s owned by Eckmann has witnessed one tournament crowd. The restaurant was busy during the 2011 tournament, but so were his other restaurants, he indicated.

“We are busy at Main Street,” but the tournament “helps the other restaurants that I have just as much as much,” he said. “They all do well. It depends on the teams and the traffic flows. If they come up from Down East, they stop [at the McDonald’s] in Brewer.”

If teams from Piscataquis County make the tournament, “our store in Dover-Foxcroft can do well, with the buses buzzing back and forth. Or they’ll stop at our Broadway store,” Eckmann said.

The Hogan Road McDonald’s attracts teams traveling south from Aroostook County and northern Penobscot County, plus fans staying at nearby hotels, he noted.

Certain schools seem to prefer the Odlin Road Days Inn, according to Thibodeau. “Jonesport-Beals is huge. We ask them if anyone is left in town when they come up,” she said. “Millinocket: Stearns is strong. And the County schools: We can always count on Houlton, Fort Fairfield, other schools up there.”

Vigue believes that since Miller’s Restaurant closed a few years ago, more fans venture downtown to dine. “We have a good selection of restaurants,” he said.

For tourney fans accustomed to free parking at Bass Park or the Bangor Mall, “I always tell people that we’re no different. There are plenty of parking spaces down here just a short distance from wherever folks need to be,” Vigue said.

“The city offers two hours of free parking” in the Pickering Square Parking Garage, which “is just a two-to-three-minute walk from everything downtown,” he said.

Besides enjoying the tournament’s economic stimulus, Thibodeau, Eckmann, and Vigue appreciate the tournament’s long association with the Queen City. “We love it. It’s really being part of a tradition,” said Thibodeau, who has worked 23 years at the Days Inn; she has been its general manager since 1996.

“The tournament helps the entire community,” Eckmann said. “You can see it and feel it. You can see the traffic on the streets. You can feel it around the Bangor Mall with all the shopping opportunities.

“I like it because it brings a vibrancy back into the community,” he said. “It brings you out, gets you feeling good.”

“The baseball tournaments have been so big in Bangor. It’s such a tradition for Bangor; hopefully it will never end,” Vigue said.

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