The 2009 Summer National Senior Games are bringing in the gold to Palo Alto businesses, merchants say. But exactly how much is yet to be seen.
In the first five days since the Games opened Aug. 1, parties of as many as 30 people are booking reservations at Palo Alto restaurants and hotel shuttle buses are full, with guests riding to shopping districts, business managers said.
Seniors are bulking up on carbs and imbibing in beer and cocktails to celebrate wins and drown their losses. On the Games' opening night, one half of the Old Pro sports bar and restaurant on Ramona Street was filled with senior athletes, according to night manager Rachael Moala. She estimated the establishment grossed a couple thousand dollars more on that night alone.
"It's been great for business. They ate sliders, wings, calamari -- lots of quantities of food and beer," she said, although no seniors rode the mechanical bull.
The Games are expected to bring about 30,000 people to the Bay Area, and the City of Palo Alto has projected as much as $35 million in revenue for the local businesses.
Susan Barnes, the city's economic resources/redevelopment program manager, is tracking the economic influx.
It's too early to calculate figures, but the city is conducting a survey of Games participants among other data-gathering strategies, she said. There are four or five sets of numbers the city will analyze from various surveys at hotels and the Games exit poll, she added.
So far, the anecdotal information from hoteliers and restaurateurs, with whom she has met twice, has been positive, she said.
Maps of downtown and the city have been snapped up, and the city has reprinted them twice, she said. The Weekly's "Visitors' Guide" has also had to be replenished, she added.
The "Shop-Dine-Stay" campaign, in which participating merchants offer discounts or freebies to athletes, has attracted 75 stores, she said.
Some news reports have cast doubt on the economic boon, pointing to vacancies at hotels and motels, but Barnes said the figures are deceptive.
Palo Alto has 1,819 hotel rooms. Most people are not staying for the full 15 days, so figures will ebb and flow, she said.
"Occupancy in Palo Alto (averages) 50 to 60 percent. Even if you have occupancy in the 80 percent or 90 percent range, that's still making an impact of up to 30 percent," she said.
Jeffery Phillips, front office manager at the Garden Court Hotel on Cowper Street, said the high-end hotel is at 70 percent capacity. Reservations have included athletes, sponsors and people working on putting the games together.
"It's given us a steady base of business along with our regular guests," he said.
At Stanford Terrace Inn on Stanford Avenue, guests are staying an average of four to six nights instead of the usual two to three, according to Bridget O'Brien, director of operations.
"They're all over. They fill up the hotel shuttle to California Avenue. It's been non-stop -- it's unbelievable," she said.
Not all businesses are experiencing a windfall, however. At Sprout Cafe on University Avenue, where lunchtime crowds mob the place for salads, owner Vinh Vi said he hasn't noticed the seniors coming in. Servers at Jing Jing Chinese restaurant on Emerson Street also said they haven't seen an appreciable change in clientele.
That could be because diners' meal choices seem to be in line with their training regimen -- heavy carbohydrates needed for their active sports.
At The Cheesecake Factory, server Deanna Albiani said women's basketball and water polo teams "indulged in everything" during recent visits.
Marcello Di Cicco, a server at Pasta? on University Avenue and The Fish Market along El Camino Real, has seen a good influx of Senior Games participants at both restaurants, he said.
"They're drinking. We had a nice crew last night. There were eight from a Kentucky basketball team. They got eliminated and each one had two cocktails. They lost their game. I guess they figured, 'What the heck?'" he said.
With 4,000 and 5,000 more athletes expected to arrive this weekend, the pace of business could speed up.
At Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant on Emerson Street, parties of 10 to 30 athletes and their families have booked reservations for this coming weekend, with Sunday the biggest day so far, according to Monica Arenas, a manager.
Steve Boyden, manager at Il Fornaio on Cowper Street, is looking forward to the additional influx of patrons.
"It's definitely going to be a big help in these troubled times. Sometimes these things aren't as good for business as you think," he said, referring to the 2008 Amgen Tour of California bicycle race, when downtown streets were closed off.
"But this is a good thing for business," he said.