The Travers Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course has come and gone, but as the track’s 2018 season winds toward the end, downtown Saratoga continued to be a busy place on Sunday and business owners expect it to stay that way for the next few months.
Businesses and restaurants saw steady crowds of people in and out of their establishments throughout the weekend, particularly on Friday and Sunday, the day before and after the meet’s signature event.
While many Saratoga businesses do see a short spike in traffic in and out of shops and restaurants during Travers weekend, there are other times during the year that traffic is high for long stretches, owners said.
Marianne Barker, a co-owner of Impressions of Saratoga on Broadway, said on Sunday that the store had been somewhat quiet on Saturday while people were at the racetrack. But Friday during the day and Sunday morning had been busy.
In the 40 years that her store has been in business, Barker has picked up on the trends that come with the opening and closing of track season.
On Travers Day, people arrive early to the track and forgo shopping, she said. Then, once Saturday is over, Saratoga visitors use Sunday as a day for shopping, sightseeing and dining.
“The trend has been that Friday is crazy, and Saturday is quiet. Sunday is very busy,” she said.
Typically, Barker said, her store will remain busy until the end of track season, which this year is Sept. 3. After that, there could be a quiet few days, with business picking back up when college students return to the area and fall events in town start.
Cathy Hamilton, one of the owners of the Putnam Market on Broadway, confirmed that while the past weekend is usually busy, the real spike for Putnam Market comes during horse sale weekends in early August.
During the racing season, she said, many customers visit the store, but leave with smaller items such as single bottles of wine or sandwiches.
The market turns a larger profit in the months that follow, she said, when people leave with bigger purchases, such as Thanksgiving turkeys, supplies for parties and holiday gifts.
“It’s a completely different kind of shopping,” she said.
The real traffic slowdown, business owners said, doesn’t start until winter comes.
Barker and Hamilton both said that with cold and bad weather comes a lull in customers, with business slowing down in December, January and February, except for holidays like Valentine’s Day.
Nancy Scheemaker, general manager at the Northshire Bookstore, also on Broadway, said the upcoming fall season will be as the busy track season because of the plethora of events hosted by various organizations in Saratoga, from the bookstore itself, to galleries and museums.
“We’re happy. We’re getting a lot of visitors,” she said on Sunday. “There is always something going on in town.”
Much of the continued business over the next few months is a result of a loyal local following for businesses in conjunction with a prolonged effort from the city itself to make Saratoga Springs into something big beyond the race course, business owners said.
Hamilton noted that relying totally on racing season for sales would quickly prove fatal for any business in Saratoga Springs.
Once the racetrack is closed for the season, a majority of the customers, aside form fall tourists, are locals, a demographic that stores have worked hard to court with incentives such as loyalty programs that reward customers who make repeat visits.
“There is not a business owner, at least in Saratoga, that can rely fully on racing season,” she said. “The racing season is just icing on the cake.”
Barker said that businesses and restaurants in the area have put a large effort into becoming more than a place people visit for six weeks of the year, but added that there isn’t any room to be complacent just because they see success year-round.
“We’re so lucky that Saratoga has turned into a yearlong destination,” Barker said. “We can’t rest on our laurels.”