Story by Jenna Mushro
Every year, Drake neighborhood businesses work diligently for months in preparation for the crowd that Drake Relays brings. This year marks the 104th Relays, and the buzz is that having Hy-Vee as a new sponsor will bring a crowd unlike any other year.
With Relays already attracting fans and athletes from all over the world, Drake neighborhood businesses are eager to see how this will affect their sales and customer rates. In 2012, the attendance at Drake Relays reached 14,504 people, the largest since 2006.
“There will be no comparison. With Hy-Vee on board this year, I expect this year’s crowd to be even bigger,” Bob LaFratte, co-owner of Peggy’s Tavern on Forest Avenue, said.
Peggy’s extends its space by setting up a 40-by-60 foot tent in its back parking lot.
Peggy’s prepares by hiring extra staff and police officers for the weekend.
“It’s one big party at Peggy’s, but my main concern is to keep everyone safe. That’s our number one priority,” LaFratte said.
With Relays taking place during the last weekend in April, spring weather brings a challenge for many of the local businesses. Inventory and the amount of staff needed are hard to predict.
Outdoor rain gear for overcast afternoons or T-shirts for sunny days disappear quickly with fans checking the weather forecast before arriving at the stadium.
“It’s always a gamble. If you want a certain shirt, you better come early,” LaFratte said.
The University Bookstore, also located on Forest Avenue, sets up a separate tent in the stadium parking lot to cater its business to fans in addition to alumni.
Despite the unpredictable weather, both businesses agree that Relays is the single busiest weekend of the year in terms of sales and customers.
“That weekend it can be packed from wall-to-wall,” Katie Welz, University Bookstore manager, said.
Welz has been the Drake Bookstore manager for over 20 years and loves the atmosphere Relays brings.
“My favorite part about Relays is definitely the people. You pick up on the energy, which you don’t see at many other campuses,” Welz said. “It is uniquely Drake.”
LaFratte describes the importance of Relays sales at Peggy’s, the Drake neighborhood bar that has been open since 1935.
“It helps carry us through the year, since in the summer months we don’t have as much business,” LaFratte said. “But it all depends on the weather that weekend in April.”
So is Relays weekend Black Friday for these businesses? Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is often seen as the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Businesses at this time see their profits sharply increase, or are “in the black.”
Welz explains that sales dramatically increase, but the atmosphere is very different.
“It is very much a Black Friday feel, with a twist,” she said. “It’s not as much a buying frenzy, but more a fun, event-driven weekend with a lot of traditions.”