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Redskins training camp’s boost for local businesses is minimal

Katie Nesselrodt (lower right) and her son Aaron, 16, of Williamsburg wait to be seated in a crowded City Diner after attending the morning walk-through at the Redskins' training camp. The City Diner on West Broad Street across from the DMV headquarters is one of the area's businesses that have reaped the benefit of the Redskins' training camp.

Katie Nesselrodt (lower right) and her son Aaron, 16, of Williamsburg wait to be seated in a crowded City Diner after attending the morning walk-through at the Redskins' training camp. The City Diner on West Broad Street across from the DMV headquarters is one of the area's businesses that have reaped the benefit of the Redskins' training camp.

Businesses hoping to get a boost from the Redskins’ visit to Richmond for training camp are learning those hopes all come down to location.

Restaurants near the team’s hotel in Shockoe Slip and dining options along West Broad Street near the Science Museum of Virginia are seeing a jump in sales, but business owners just a few blocks away from those main gathering spots say they’ve seen only small upticks, or none at all.

One beneficiary has been City Diner, across West Broad Street from the Department of Motor Vehicles. At lunch most days, the eatery has looked like it’s hosting a Redskins fan club meeting.

Saturday, which was Fan Appreciation Day at training camp, was no different, said manager Major Wright, especially as fans sought to get out of the heat and humidity.

“When I got here at 6 a.m. there was already a big line outside the camp,” he said. “They didn’t hit us all at once, but it was packed in here.”

André Lipscomb, the general manager of the McDonald’s at 2700 W. Broad St., added extra shifts for employees and decided to keep the restaurant’s dining room open 24 hours a day during camp.

“This has been a major positive impact on our business,” he said Thursday.

Lipscomb has also been delivering 50 Happy Meals a day to camp as part of a partnership with the Redskins. He delivered 250 on Saturday for Fan Appreciation Day.

But just a few blocks away, at Fat Dragon on Boulevard, general manager Chris Staples said he hasn’t seen a bump in sales.

“We’ve seen some Redskins fans, but the trend has been flat,” he said. “Our expectation level was very high. We wanted to see a huge spike in sales.”

He added that it seems like many fans were choosing to bring their own food to camp and were clearing out right away when the afternoon practice wrapped up, rather than stay in the city for dinner.

“We’re not giving up. If we capture a small fraction of those people and they come back in the future, it will be worth it,” Staples said. “We made an investment in trying to drive traffic and haven’t seen the return yet.”

Just east of the training camp, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery extended its hours and asked some of the food trucks that come there in the evenings to be on site for lunch.

“We thought there would be a lot more people, but there hasn’t been much foot traffic,” said Kerry Anderson, the brewery’s events manager.

A few people have been stopping by after the afternoon practices, she said, but so far signs and ads on local sports radio haven’t brought out big numbers of fans.

Monique Pecora, who had her food truck parked at Hardywood on Thursday, said she’d heard from other trucks that business had been very slow during lunch. The group of food trucks decided to scale back and have just one vendor on site during lunch.

Shockoe Slip is playing host to players and coaches each evening, with the team staying at the Omni Hotel.

Shannon Greenwood, director of sales and restaurant marketing at The Tobacco Company Restaurant, said the restaurant is seeing fans come in for dinner and drinks, especially after they gather outside the hotel, which is just across 12th Street from the restaurant, to watch the team arrive after practice.

She said the team and its fans have provided a boost during what is normally a slow time of year for the restaurant.

AnnMarie Grohs, sales and marketing manager at Morton’s, said the restaurant has hosted fans, players, coaches and other members of the team staff. Like Greenwood, she said the boost was welcome during the slow summer period.

Fans attending training camp are allowed to bring in food and non-alcoholic beverages. There are three on-site food options: Famous Dave’s, Johnny Rockets and Papa John’s. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder owned Johnny Rockets until June, when his private equity firm, Red Zone Capital Management, announced it would sell the burger chain to Sun Capital Partners.

The decision to work with three national chains isn’t sitting well with some local restaurateurs.

Jake Crocker, who owns F.W. Sullivan’s and three other restaurants in the Fan, with a fifth opening downtown in a few months, said his lunch business has been down at all four of his restaurants.

“The city failed to mention that we helped fund this with our meals tax payments,” he said. “These projects seem like they’ll be great, but they don’t generate business because there is food on-site. I can’t believe we’ve got national chains in a facility built with taxpayer money.”

Adding to Crocker’s anger, he said, is the fact that both Johnny Rockets and Famous Dave’s have locations in Chesterfield County and Henrico County but none inside the city.

“So [training camp] has a national chain that doesn’t pay city meals tax. I paid the city $250,000 last year,” Crocker said. “If I saw a local, city business out there, I would be cool with this.”

Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, said the Redskins picked the food vendors for inside the training facility and were tied to those vendors based off other contracts. She said the city had no control over those selections.

Hawley also said the city is using this first year of camp as a learning experience and will work with restaurants and other businesses in the future to help them draw more customers.

Richmond Region Tourism is conducting a survey of visitors to training camp for the city and asking how people planned their visit and what promotions or deals from local businesses appealed to them. She said results from that survey, along with meals and sales tax data, will shape the city’s efforts leading up to future camps.

Corcker and restaurant owners along Robinson Street also banded together to offer a free shuttle on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays during camp. The shuttle ran fans from the training camp site to the Fan and back, but Crocker said it didn’t deliver results for his restaurants.

Marian DeAlto, the longtime owner of Buddy’s on Robinson, said every restaurant along the street is running specials and promotions. They’ve also put out flags and other decorations to welcome fans.

But she said business has only increased slightly since the team came to town. Saturday was a bit better, she said, especially after practice.

“But it wasn’t packed,” she said. “I do think we benefited from people who were frustrated by the crowd or the heat.”

DeAlto said she heard mixed reviews from nearby restaurants. Some saw a spike in business on Saturday, while others were virtually empty, she said.

Last weekend Buz Grossberg, owner of Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue on Boulevard, just blocks from The Diamond and the training camp, said business had been flat in the early days of camp. On Thursday, he said things had picked up a bit for lunch, but not in the evenings.

“When the afternoon session is over, everyone gets in the car and drives home. Gone. See ya,” Grossberg said. “I think the impact on the city is far less than it was hyped to be.”

Grossberg said he was hoping for a better boost for the city and his business.

“I wish I could tell you grandiose things, but I can’t.”

Training camp info

The Washington Redskins’ 2013 training camp runs through Aug. 16 at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond. Admission is free.

Practice sessions typically last one to two hours. Bring lawn chairs or blankets. No bleachers are available. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m.

Parking information can be found on our training camp blog at timesdispatch.com.

Camp schedule

Today: 10 a.m. walk-through; 3:20 p.m. practice

Tuesday: 10 a.m. walk-through; 3:20 p.m. practice

Saturday: 1 p.m. practice

Aug. 12: 10 a.m. walk-through; 3:20 p.m. practice

Aug. 13: 12:40 p.m. practice

Aug. 14: 12:40 p.m. practice

Aug. 15: 12:40 p.m. practice

Aug. 16: 9:45 a.m. practice

Redskins trainig camp blog

Jacob Geiger is director of Work It, Richmond. He can be reached at jgeiger@workitrichmond.com or (804) 649-6874.