Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cooling down

Feel that cool breeze drifting through the screen. Clip off the fan, shut down the AC and take a listen, because its there, skulking its way through the Adirondack evergreens and down the valleys of the Hudson River. Autumn is upon us once again, even after all the reports last month that we’d likely meet a fiery demise amid the summers’ heat.

Racing came to an end this summer just minutes after favorite Bernardini charged over the finish line at the Travers stakes more than a week ago. The mass-exodus out of the city that followed on the dreary Sunday morning after was a testament for the business downtown would bear witness to through Labor Day.

For most honest people in the know, the meet wasn’t the same this year; there was an intangible element that seemed to be missing. And for businesses downtown, that element is sure to manifest once the snow starts flying.

Here’s the message no one want to here: business downtown was bad. How bad is anyone’s guess, but it was bad. There were considerably less people out at partying at night and chowing down at the droves of eateries that play such an integral roll of the city’s economy.

Sure, ask the three-card monte dealers of the New York Racing Association and they’ll tell you things went swell; average attendance was up slightly despite canceling a whole day of races in response to the heat wave of early August. They’ll also say the overall handle was up.

But the truth of the matter is that the loveable spinners were the ones that inflated this year’s attendance numbers, logging on average more than 40,000 revolutions of the main entrance turnstiles to fog up any definitive fan estimates. And the handles? They were up thanks to the simulcasts piping into OTBs around the region and the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway down the street.

Did someone say racino? Yes, there was one place in Saratoga that undoubtedly finished on the up-and-up. All season, the racino was the buzz word on the street amid the throngs of downstaters looking for some action. It’s not to say that these people didn’t go to see the flat track races, just that a good number of them decided to wheel over to the harness track for dinner and a quick hit off the video crack pipe.

Some businesses are less than candid about their losses, as the trademark Saratogian “business was awesome” article penned at the conclusion of every meet. But ask these owners to tell the scout’s honor truth and they’ll tell you the spending has gotten rather dismal downtown.

This is not to say that the outlook is all doom-and-gloom; what was a six-week only bonanza just over a decade ago has grown to incorporate the months of July and September. And business on a whole seems a bit more robust in the off-season, thanks to a steady procession of convention business.

However, the booming racino is more than likely to sound death knell for the business owner moving tentatively from month-to-month on lackluster receipt,, as higher rents, more taxes and a decrease in foot traffic has put an end to the free-for-all cash grab that once proliferated on Broadway.

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