Business at the Saratoga Race Course during the just-completed 140th racing meet and in the city itself gained in the final weeks but couldn’t shake off the triple whammy that got the meet off to a slow start early.
“I think everybody had a good summer,” said Dawn Oesch, owner of the Candy Co. of Saratoga. “But nobody had a great summer, comparing it to the past few years.”
Oesch, who is president of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, said high gas prices, wet weather early and the sluggish economy did have an impact on the businesses downtown.
The New York Racing Association ended its 36-day racing meet at the historic race course on Union Avenue Monday on a positive note.
Perfect, sunny track weather and free admission brought a larger crowd than the final day of the very successful 2007 meet. More than 28,000 attended the final day of racing as compared to about 20,000 on the final day in 2007.
Charles Hayward, NYRA president and CEO, said the good, dry weather during the second half of the racing meet salvaged the rain washout of the first three weeks.
“We are very close to 2006 numbers,” Hayward said when asked to compare the just-finished racing meet with recent meets.
He said 2007 was a record setting year, blessed with good weather throughout.
After three weeks of racing this summer NYRA had posted double-digit declines in both attendance and on-track betting compared to 2007. But NYRA officials said the beautiful summer weather of the past 18 racing days saw a rebound in attendance and betting.
Projected final attendance for the meet was down 9.8 percent over 2007 and on-track handle was down 7.2 percent over the 2007 betting numbers, according to NYRA.
The daily average attendance at the race track was 24,010 as compared to 26,627 in 2007.
“The economy hit us a little harder than I expected,” Hayward said on Monday. At the start of the meet he had projected a 5 percent decline in betting while the actual decline was more than 7 percent.
However, Hayward noted that the Saratoga summer racing meet put up better attendance and handle numbers than other summer racing meets, including those at Del Mar in California and Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
“We performed better than the other tracks,” Hayward said.
The first summer of the new Saratoga Restaurant Row, a long booth at the track where six local restaurants offered moderately priced samples of their special dishes, was declared a success on Monday.
“It went great,” said Kristen Carey at the Grey Gelding Bistro & Bar booth.
She said people loved the local cooking and often followed up their track samples by going downtown to the actual eatery such as the Grey Gelding at 423 Broadway.
“The response from patrons has been fabulous,” said John Caraco, manager of One Caroline, another restaurant represented on Saratoga Restaurant Row.
He said the fan favorites at the track from One Caroline and the Mouzon House were the seafood gumbo and the muffala wrap. None of the food items on restaurant row exceeded $8 and most were in the $4 to $7 range.
At Lillian’s Restaurant on Broadway in downtown Saratoga the summer has been an unqualified success, according to Tom Jones, a Lillian’s manager.
“It’s equal to last year,” Jones said.
He said the wet weather during the first couple of weeks of the racing meet “hurt a little bit” but the long-time Broadway restaurant was very busy even on those wet weekends, he said.
Bob Herrold, manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott near Northway Exit 15 in Saratoga Springs said business this summer is up 8 percent over the same period in 2007.
He said part of the reason is that people are getting to know the relatively new hotel. Herrold said the extended-stay hotel also offered special off-day packages for stays from Sunday through Tuesday that attracted cost-conscious travelers.
“When the weather is great, the people are here,” said Peter Canzone who owns American Artists in Saratoga Springs.
Canzone and his wife Lisa sell framed horse-racing photos and horse-related jewelry from a booth just inside the entrance to the track.
“I don’t think we can match last year, but we did pretty well,” Lisa Canzone said.
At the Carolina Barbecue stand behind the main grandstand, Amanda Bussing of Greenwich said business was “pretty good” but “slower than other years.”
Bussing has worked the same booth selling sausage and peppers and pulled pork sandwiches for the past four years.
“This entire place flooded,” Bussing said about the days during the first two weeks of racing when torrential rains came down and actually canceled almost an entire day of racing Aug. 8 because a portion of the main track was washed away.