Economy swells as visitors pour into town for Series

When Little League Baseball comes to town, everyone knows it. It goes beyond the mouth-watering, reminiscent scent of juicy hot dogs, or salty, chewy soft pretzels and cold icies in the heat of the day. The impact resounds beyond the stands of shouting fans into the streets of Williamsport and area businesses.

In 2011, about 61,000 people came to town for the event, which contributed $30 million to the local economy, according to an economic impact study by Little League Baseball and Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Jason Fink, executive director of the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, said numbers should be good again this year as no teams from a major metro area are within driving distance – they’ll have to stay in town. Fink said that will boost the local economy. Plus, international fans may turn out to support Little League first-time teams Australia and the Czech Republic.

“Looking at the teams, it looks like it’s going to be a very fun tournament this year to see quality play out of the kids,” Fink said.

Shawn Duffy, 49, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., arrived at the Genetti Hotel Wednesday evening. His son, Ryan Duffy, 12, is playing on the Great Lakes Regional team.

‘This is our mecca’

“For baseball, this is our mecca,” Shawn Duffy said. He

said the last time his region’s team made it to the games was 25 years ago.

He enjoyed eating at the Brickyard restaurant, 343 Pine St., after he arrived.

When out-of-state fans and families stay here, many flock to clothing and shoe stores since Pennsylvania doesn’t have a sales tax on those items.

Brandon Hall, general manager of Shoe Carnival, 1740 E. Third St., said many out-of-state shoppers snatch up shoes and other supplies because there’s no sales tax charged for those items, unlike some other states. He hired more staff just to keep up with demand during the games.

Sheer volume

International fans are amazed at the sheer amount of stores here and the variety of goods within, Hall said.

Williamsport native Alissa Reese was back-to-school shopping at the Shoe Carnival with her boys Austin, 9, and Nathan, 13.

They were excited to go to the games, and Nathan won a $2 coupon from the store after he was able to name four teams.

Rajah Lehr, of Williamsport, was shopping with her children, Bella, 5, and Brock, 3, and her brother-in-law, David Turner, 12. The kids couldn’t wait to go to their first-ever Little League game and looked forward to eating hot dogs.

Restaurants win too

Restaurants also reap the benefits of Little League. This time of year always is the busiest for the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St., owner Bob Koch said.

While the numbers continue to increase, Little League fans come in at different times than before, due to the packed game schedule.

Local people think it’s busier than it is during games and stay away, so it creates a slower period at times than normal, he said.

Dave Hertwig, owner of Barrel 135, The Brickyard, and the recently opened 3 Gringos, said Little League customers give a boost at a time when business might otherwise lag.

“It’s a fun time to work downtown, culturally and economically,” said 3 Gringos General Manager AJ Robson.

Cara Vito, manager of Panera Bread, 202 Basin St., said it’s an “exciting time” to be in business. Staff hours have increased to make extra bread and other food.

“Lots of hours, lots of people and lots of bread,” Vito said.

Different story

But the story is different for local hotels. Last year, hotels were packed and sold out in the weeks leading up to Little League Baseball. This year, there were vacancies.

Occupancy broke records in 2011 and 2012 at the Genetti Hotel, 200 W. Fourth St., but this year, the numbers put them behind the 2010 occupancy, General Manager Marc Schefsky said.

He attributes the lower numbers largely to the natural gas industry leveling off. When the boom first hit, hotels were scrambling to expand and build in the area, he said. Now, there just aren’t enough people to fill all the new space, he said. The new hotels also bring competition for the Genetti.

“It’s still busy, but not what it used to be,” Schefsky said.

Price sensitivity

This is the first year the Holiday Inn, 100 Pine St., hasn’t sold out at this time. Normally, this week sells out by June. General Manager Heidi Engel said besides the fact that ESPN’s production company isn’t staying at their hotel this year, she’s noticed travelers haven’t booked nearly as many rooms.

“I think travelers are most price sensitive; they’re booking farther out for the discount. Travelers are more educated, and can get a better deal 20 minutes away rather than in Williamsport,” Engel said.

Engel noted the impact of the lackluster gas industry on the hotel, and said many are lodging on-site now.

There are noticeably more rooms available this year at the Econo Lodge, 2019 E. Third St., and Fairfield Inn & Suites, 104 Maynard St., said Econo Lodge General Manager Miranda Leopaul and Fairfield Inn Assistant General Manager Karen Hurne.