Aiken businesses prepped for Masters crowd influx
There is no room in the inn during Masters Week. The Willcox on Colleton Avenue is full and also is completely booked for the same period in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“A tour group comes in from Australia; they buy us out entirely, and they’ve just signed on for another three years,” said Geoff Ellis, who owns the 22-room hotel with his wife, Shannon.
“But our spa and restaurant are still open to the public, and they will be very, very busy,” he added.
The Willcox is just one of the many businesses in Aiken County that benefit from Augusta’s famed golf tournament, which attracts thousands of tourists to the area.
“Many businesses see Masters Week as a second Christmas,” said David Jameson, president and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. “Lots of shopping takes place during the day in Aiken. Hotels are full, our restaurants flourish and our golf courses are packed. It has a far-reaching impact, and many people count on it as another one of those ways to get over their financial hump.”
A series of practice rounds for the Masters begins today at the Augusta National, and the first round of the tournament is scheduled for Thursday. The historic event ends on Sunday, unless rain pushes it to Monday.
“The best way to describe it is, every day of the week is like a beautiful Saturday,” said Jennifer Pruiett, who owns the Aiken Brewing Company on Laurens Street with her husband, Rob. “Masters Week is a great time of year for us. Everybody has to work crazy hours, but we get it done.”
Van Smith of Lionel Smith Ltd. in downtown Aiken makes sure the men’s clothing store is stocked with plenty of bright-colored shirts and pants.
“There are a lot of people who come in from the Northeast, where stores don’t have a lot of their spring and summer clothing yet,” he said. “So it’s all brand-spanking new out of the box to them.”
Smith estimated that sales at Lionel Smith increase 15 to 20 percent during Masters Week.
“We get many new people who come in, and we also see a lot of old faces that we only see once a year,” he said. “We have a lot of women who shop here when they don’t go over to the Masters with their husbands.”
Mike Willis, who owns Tea Garden Gifts in downtown Aiken with Cathy Bland, said the shop’s management prepares for Masters Week by sending out emails to customers and advertising in local publications. There also are product promotions on Facebook and an in-store contest that involves a putting green and the opportunity for customers to win 20 percent off their purchases.
“People aren’t just kicking tires; they’re buying, and it makes a difference,” Willis said.
Tea Garden usually stays open longer during Masters Week.
“We play it by ear,” Willis said. “Normally, Monday through Friday, we close at 5:30 p.m. But during Masters Week, we close Thursday and Friday around 7 or 7:30. Monday through Wednesday, we’re probably open until around 6.”
At Ryan’s Downtown Market & Deli, “we cancel all vacations and man all stations,” said Cutter Mitchell, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Hayes Mitchell. “We order extra food, and everybody works more hours.”
Business grows 20 to 30 percent, he estimated.
According to Jameson, Masters Week is more than an opportunity for Aiken County stores, restaurants and hotels to reap financial rewards. It also provides business owners and residents a chance to promote the area to visitors.
The Chamber, he said, recently sent out a reminder to its members “that now is when the golf world is going to be looking at our area, so it’s time to paint and patch up and for all of us to be ambassadors for Aiken.”
Little actions, according to Jameson, could have big consequences.
“Just the fact that you smiled and said hello ... might cause someone to think, ‘You know, I’m really enjoying my visit to Aiken. Maybe when we’re running our numbers for our next business project, we’ll look at this community as a possibility.’”