The bittersweet end of the Saratoga racing season is under way with the “Final Stretch” music festival.
The festival attracted an estimated 15,000 people Saturday who came to listen to seven bands performing at venues strategically placed throughout the city and who literally danced in the streets. It concludes tonight — 7-11 p.m. — with seven more bands and is expected to draw an estimated 10,000.
A tradition dating back at least 20 years, the festival bids farewell to the thoroughbreds that ran during the 40-day season at the Saratoga Race Course and promises to fill the coffers of many downtown merchants during the Labor Day weekend.
The Final Stretch stirs mixed emotions among business owners, visitors and others who populate Saratoga Springs during the season. Some are glad to see the season end because it means an end to the fast life and to long days of work. Others would like it to continue indefinitely because track season means money and good times will flow freely.
For Janice DeMarco, co-owner of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore on Phila Street, it means “we can get a parking space,” she said with a laugh. Parking becomes a premium as thousands of vehicles flood the city during the season. The opening of a new parking deck this year helped alleviate the problem somewhat.
Her husband, John DeMarco, said their book store thrives during track season, as its 135,000 specialty and rare books attract many customers. At the same time, the DeMarcos are happy to see the season end. “It is a mixed bag. We are happy to get a break from working seven days a week,” but bills still need to be paid, he said.
The DeMarcos plan to take a vacation come Tuesday, and then they will return and get their shop ready for the upcoming holidays and for track season next year.
Kate Edwards, owner of Kettlewell & Edwards fine art and framing on Phila Street, said her business actually picks up after track season and into the holidays. Her clientele is mostly local and her customers tend to shy away from Saratoga Springs during track season and big concert events because of the traffic and parking congestion.
Edwards said she closes early for the Final Stretch on Saturdays and does not open on Sundays. “I have come in on Sundays and put in long hours, and it does not necessarily translate into more business,” she said.
By contrast, Jennifer Marcellus, owner of Miss Scarlett on Phila Street, clothing store, hates to see track season end. “I am not happy about it and I wish the track stayed open all year,” she said.
Marcellus said “My sales are better than last year’s.”
Need a break
Down the street at Gaffney’s, manager Kim Smith said she and her staff are ready for a break after a season of good business. Many of the restaurant and bar’s temporary staff have already returned to college, leaving the “core” staff to pull long hours to cover shifts.
Still, she said, Gaffney’s wouldn’t have it any other way. “I remember a time when we did not have that much traffic,” she said, referring to the days before the Saratoga Springs Chamber of Commerce launched the Final Stretch festival. In those days, Saratoga Springs was a near ghost town during Labor Day weekend when people spent their time at the beach or at home, she said.
Susan Farnsworth, a special events planner under contract with the chamber to put together the Final Stretch, said the festival “gives people a reason to stay until Monday,” the last day of the track.
Making its first appearance at the Final Stretch Saturday night was Heard, a jazz ensemble. Band leader Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius said her group is likely to face its biggest audience ever at the festival. “We think our music is in a place now where it is appropriate and fine for festivals,” she said.
Heard’s music was enough to make six pre-schoolers dance with delight in the street. Two of the them belong to Melissa Schafer of Guilderland.
Schafer said she brought her 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son to the festival just so they could dance the night away. “We have done it since Elizabeth was born,” she said. “We do the whole gamut and dance a couple of dances with all of the bands.”
At the end of the night, the children are so tuckered out they easily fall asleep, Schafer said with a wide smile.
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