BY WILL MUCKAIN
Businesses in Iowa’s capital eagerly anticipate the influx of potential customers swarming Des Moines during the Drake Relays and the monetary boost to the local economy they bring with them.
“The entire impact of the Drake Relays is $7.7 million on the Des Moines economy,” said Greg Edwards, the president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to Edwards, Relays is among the top annual events in terms of boosting the Des Moines economy.
“There are a handful of events that (are comparable),” Edwards said. “The World Pork Expo brings in international travel like the Drake Relays do, and it has a huge impact on the community. The Iowa State Fair is probably the biggest annual impact.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau does more than just provide information for those new to the city. For the Relays especially, its responsibility is getting disoriented newcomers to walk in the door of local businesses instead of through national chains.
For bars, the impact is significant. Edwards said that establishments with a social component, like bars, receive a huge boost from Drake traffic.
“All of those bars and restaurants are fully aware of when those Relays fans come in,” Edwards said. “They may run certain flyers and certain marketing.”
The bars nearest to Drake — Peggy’s Tavern and West End — both see a massive increase in turnout. The “Peggy’s Tent” during Relays Week is one of the business’s most well-known events, but the impact extends beyond those two. Bordy’s Pizza, located right next to Peggy’s, also benefits from its proximity to Drake.
“(Relays) is all they’re talking about here,” Adam, a Bordy’s employee, said. “People were just packing in here.”
For establishments close to Drake, additional preparations have to be made. Bordy’s brings on extra help, as does the McDonald’s on the corner of 30th and Forest Ave., which one employee described as “crazy busy” during the week. The fast food restaurant brings in workers from 12 nearby McDonald’s franchises to alleviate that pressure.
Despite the sudden tourism increase, business can be finicky for shops. UpDown is an arcade bar situated right next to Wooly’s, one of the most popular music venues in the downtown area. Getting the young adult crowd in during the height of Relays would be a huge financial asset. Strangely, the bar’s numbers remained somewhat low through Relays week.
“It was a pretty normal week for us in terms of sales. I don’t remember having a lot of out-of-towners,” Ben Pierce of UpDown said.
Pierce also highlighted an underrated aspect of tourism: the weather. With Relays taking place late in April, Iowans are oftentimes getting their first taste of warm weather for the year, and it shows in their shopping preferences.
“Since the weather is nice around that time, people tend to hit places with patios and outdoor stuff,” Pierce said. UpDown is located underground.
As Relays draws closer, many businesses plan to stock up on product and personnel in order to pull people through the door and serve them adequately. With Relays, it seems, the competition is not confined to the Blue Oval.