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Remembering Walter Wakelin
So, I've lived in Asheville for about a year now - I've experienced the Harley Rally, the Honda Hoot and Bele Chere. Between these three events, we, the people of Asheville are somehow supposed to experience all sorts of financial gain. The funny thing is, and I noticed this while walking around during said events, a lot of the downtown shops are closed for the duration of these supposedly lucrative festivals.
I own a store in Downtown, and when the Harley folks were here I had a big boost in sales. The Harley riders spend money. Most suprisingly, they were all courteous and friendly, not at all the image projected in films and on news items (if you are old enough, I'm sure you remember Altamont and the Rolling Stones concert). I wasn't really that surprised though; to own a "hog" is to love life, and if you love life, you live it.
Next came the Honda Hoot. Our glorious leaders here in town (the City Council) announced that the "Hooters" spent seven and a half million dollars here last year. Wow, I thought, I better order more merchandise. But then I got to thinking about it. Twenty to thirty thousand motorcyclists... all staying in hotels... let's see, a room is around $65 dollars a night (during the Hoot, at least). That means that they spent about 6.8 million dollars over the four nights for lodging alone. They also had to eat while they were here and I'm sure that took up the balance of the 7.5 million that was spent.
Notice that this allows very little for spending in shops downtown. Also notice that practically none of the hotels rooms in Asheville are locally owned - they are corporate; and, I suspect that most of the dining was done at restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster and other corporate chains, because don't we all like to eat at restaurants with which we are familiar? So, my question is, just how much of the estimated 7+ million dollars stayed in Asheville?
Anyway, the Hooters arrived and I was ready (to have no business). Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. My net result in business during the Honda Hoot? My regulars stayed away, and the Hooters, for the most part, either didn't come in or made it plain that "back home" prices, selection, quality and whatever were all better. It made me proud to be an Asheville businessman. Thank you, City Council, for making the Hooters oh, so welcome.
And, just recently, I experienced my first Bele Chere. A fifteen minute walk Friday afternoon was sufficient to view all the worthwhile items for sale. The thing was, based on the amount of business the store was doing, I had all the time in the world to look around. Hey, why not get a beer? I can walk around listening to the music (which was very good) and enjoy myself. How much for the ID bracelet? Surely that means that the beer is like ten cents a cup, right? What?!? No thanks, I'll get some water. The beer would have just made me hotter. Two dollars for water?!? Maybe I'll just go home and turn on WNCW, they play most of the music I'm interested in anyway.
By the way, back at the store, the only time we saw more than just the bravest of my regular customers was when the storm hit Saturday afternoon and folks came looking for shelter. You know, I've come to a conclusion. I have decided that the whole idea of Bele Chere must have started at a meeting of the Bumcombe County EMS. I can just imagine... "Hey guys, I've got a great idea! Let's have a street festival in the hottest part of the summer and serve beer every half a block. Think about it; heat and lots of alcohol! We can get all kinds of overtime for resuscitating the overweight tourists!" ...or something along those lines.
Anyway, in places I've lived before, street festivals are held at a more clement time - and no, I'm not going to tell you where, you might move there and ruin it. Now, just so you don't think I hate everything, let me say that Asheville is a nice town. It has a very eclectic array of people (when they are allowed on the street), the location is wonderful (except for the inversion zone), and there is an energy that is unique. I plan on staying here (as I was born in these here hills and, except for two years at NCSU, I've lived my whole life within an eighty mile radius of Asheville) and I just want people to be aware of what is going on around them. Is it really worth it to have these economic "blessings"?
[Direct all comments to Phydeaux at Rapid River, 70 Woodfin Place, Suite 212, Asheville, NC 28801, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.]