By Liz Witbeck
Summer in Saratoga Springs means another season at Saratoga Race Course. Residents and businesses look forward to its new energy and its welcome source of revenue.
The 2014 summer meet runs for 40 days from Friday, July 18, through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1. “I love it,” said John Baker, owner Gaffney’s Restaurant on Caroline Street in downtown Saratoga Springs for 33 years.
Gaffney’s Restaurant is one of hundreds of businesses in Saratoga that benefit from the Saratoga Race Course in a variety of ways. Visitors come to dine and shop within the city. More people are employed. Many people choose the city as a destination for weddings and other celebrations during the summer.
“Everybody relies on the track” said Baker. “It’s a huge part of
Saratoga. Our business starts rolling in May and really climaxes in July
“Saratoga is definitely seen as a leisure destination for groups” said Todd Garofano, President of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau. His organization deals with groups who are looking to stay within the city.
Although there are only 40 days of racing, that short season is a significant part of the local economy, both in Saratoga Springs and beyond. In the 2011 study of the Saratoga Race Course, analysts found it brings more than $200 million into the local economy. Employment in racing-related industries has grown by 30 percent. Population in Saratoga County has grown by 13 percent, more than any county in New York State.
There are almost 300 businesses devoted to tourism in Saratoga County.
“Even though it’s a short season, it generates a large economic impact” said Annamaria Bellantoni, vice president for tourism promotion at the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce. For both students and adults, track season provides an opportunity to take on seasonal employment. “Our staff doubles in the summer” said Baker. “We max out at 80 employees.”
Lewis Siragusa, a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo, returns every summer to his hometown to work at Saratoga Coffee Traders, a cafÃ© located on Broadway.
“We have a lot of staff members, like me, who are coming back from school to work” said Siragusa. “Our staff doubles during the summer.”
A busy summer racing season means more customers at the cafÃ©. “During this time of year it doesn’t start getting busy until 10 o’clock or later” said Siragusa. “But during the summer we open the store at 7 a.m. and by that time there is already a line out the door … During the summer there is also a night rush, with people getting out of the track around 5 or 6 o’clock.”
Bruce Farley has worked as the store manager for the New York State Military Museum since 2012. He enjoys the variety of customers that visit his gift shop during the summer. “People visit from countries all around the world, which is always interesting” said Farley. “I had a gentleman come in last summer who said that he dropped his wife off at the track, and he didn’t like watching the races, so he came here instead.”
Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the Saratoga Race Course. Marketing of the track season was at its height, with events such as the Floral Fete Parade and SaratogaArtsFest. Thousands of people joined in the festivities. But attendance at the race course decreased by 3.9 percent for the 2013 racing season. Handle declined last year as well.
Other areas of Saratoga tourism, especially the hospitality industry, were on the rise. “Hotel occupancy was up last year” said Garofano. “We’re definitely seeing advanced bookings on the rise in the past couple years. It’s a testament to the marketing that was done for the Saratoga 150 events.”
While attendance may be down at the race course, that is not stopping visitors from coming to Saratoga Springs. There are many other attractions which keep bringing people to the city, such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the several museums in the city including the National Museum of Racing and Saratoga Automobile Museum, shopping and dining and other attractions. Saratoga Springs has grown into a city that people now visit all year long, instead of just the summer.
“I think there will be a residual effect from the Saratoga150 for many years to come” said Bellantoni. “Many hotels are already maxed out for the summer. It’s already looking really positive.”
“The last month or so has been very positive. It’s really picked up,” said Baker. “We had a harsh winter so I think that is some of the reason behind it. “We might even have a possible Triple Crown winner this year. I’m very optimistic for the summer meet.”