News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, March 16, 2012
AIKEN, S.C. -- It's springtime in Aiken and the local economy is feeling the boost. The Aiken Trials, Steeplechase, Polo and then the Masters all coming in the next four weeks.
"The next four weeks are gonna be huge in Aiken," said Sam Erb, owner of the Westside Bowery, a restaurant in Aiken.
More tourists means more money and this year the number of tourists is already up. Hotels are full, restaurant reservations are booking up and the streets of downtown Aiken are filled with shoppers as the city prepares for the Aiken Trials.
"This time of season is always one of our biggest. All the way through Masters is basically like a second Christmas," said Van Smith, who owns Lionel Smith Limited, a clothing store in downtown Aiken.
He said business is up from last year.
"This year has already picked up probably 20 percent more than last year on foot traffic and also on buying."
Hotels are seeing the increase as well.
"We've been sold out," said Kellie Smith, assistant general manager of The Wilcox. "We've probably turned down a lot more people than we have in years past. The restaurant is overly busy so it's helping us as a whole."
They said they're seeing more people in town to see the Trials for the first time.
"They may have been in the past to the Steeplechase or the fall Steeplechase and they've got great weather this weekend to be able to go out so they're coming to see what it's all about," she said.
The trials are just the beginning.
"This is just the start of something big for our springtime," Erb said. "We love spring in Aiken."
Four straight weeks of big events and the increase is having a ripple effect.
Frank Smiley sells local produce to restaurants and he's seen his business increase.
"Restaurants business has picked up so I've been able to sell more produce to the restaurants," he said.
Whether it's produce, restaurants, shops or hotels, the big winner is the City of Aiken.
"Everybody gets something out of it; even if they buy somewhere else, it's just improving the economy in the area, which overall improves the city," Smith said.
So it's off to the races in a city that loves horses and the people who come to watch them run.
On Saturday the Trials are at the Aiken Training Track. The gates open at 10 a.m. and post time for the first race is at 2 p.m.
Next weekend Steeplechase gates open at 10 a.m. at Ford Conger Field. The first race is at 1 p.m.
The final event of the triple crown, Pacers and Polo, will happen on March 31 at Powderhouse Field.
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