A flurry of primping, buffing and prepping has descended onto Portland’s hospitality businesses as they get ready for what promises to be a blockbuster weekend.
Many hotels in the city are sold out for Saturday, most are nearly sold out for Friday night and they’re pretty booked up for Sunday as well. Restaurants, meanwhile, are piling up the reservations or just anticipating big crowds, especially those that offer a view of Portland Harbor, where a tall ship festival’s Parade of Sail will be held Saturday afternoon.
All in all, a summer season that’s already been strong is going to get a boost from an event that’s expected to draw as many as 100,000 people to the waterfront and nearby shores. For those with no interest in acres of sailcloth, the Yarmouth Clam Festival also will be bustling all weekend. And some summer camps are hosting parents Saturday and Sunday, which usually helps fill hotel rooms in mid-July.
The combination should boost hotel occupancy rates and fatten restaurant ledgers.
Heather Chouinard, manager of the Dry Dock on Commercial Street, said the waterfront restaurant will offer a “turn and burn” menu Saturday afternoon – a limited selection to make sure people on the restaurant’s deck, which overlooks the berths of two of the tall ships, get their food quickly.
Chouinard was with the Dry Dock the last time the tall ships came to town in 2000, which led to record sales for the restaurant. She’s hoping to see the record eclipsed this weekend.
“Everybody’s excited,” she said.
At the Hilton Garden Inn, also on Commercial Street, just one of the hotel’s 120 rooms remained available for Friday night as of Thursday afternoon. General Manager Kevin Walker said Saturday is booked solid and there are 13 rooms available for Sunday night, although he expects those to go quickly, even at rates that start at about $300 a night.
Walker said it’s typical for visitors to extend their reservations after they get here, especially if the weather’s good.
The hotel added a premium of about $40 a night for those upper rooms with a view of the tall ships, Walker noted, but the extra cost didn’t deter sales.
Walker said there was some concern in the past two or three years that the arrival of new hotels in the city would spread business too thin. Over the past year or so, 671 new or renovated hotel rooms have come onto the Portland market at a cost of nearly $100 million.
But he said a lodging surplus doesn’t exist in the summer, when Maine’s sea breezes beckon tourists. And draws like the tall ships, he said, help not only now, but also next year and beyond.
“We have a lot of repeat business, and having events like this only helps us in the future,” Walker said. “It’s really great for just driving people downtown.”
Megan Brady, assistant general manager of the Saltwater Grille in South Portland, expects that the restaurant’s prime view of the harbor will fill its 180 seats.
But she said good weather, particularly on the weekends, has already drawn diners this year.
“We’re crazy busy all the time and especially since the Fourth of July,” Brady said. She said all indications are that business will remain strong right up until Columbus Day weekend in October.
Robert Witkowski, who handles media relations and is creative director for the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau of Portland, said an event like the tall ships visit is important because the impact can be spread out geographically. He said downtown Portland should be packed, but people are also expected to line the shores from Cape Elizabeth to the Portland islands in Casco Bay for the parade of ships.
Shopkeepers are hoping the biggest draw is in and around the Old Port in downtown Portland.
Rob MacArthur, a shift leader at Bard Coffee on Middle Street, said he’s expecting a busy day Saturday that will likely produce higher sales and higher stress.
“I deal with it by coming in with a positive attitude and being ready to serve a lot of people,” he said.
Beth Carberry, manager of the Cotton Garden women’s clothing store on Exchange Street, worries about the weather affecting summer sales. If it’s pouring, people stay away, she said, and they also opt for the beach if the weather is sunny.
But even with some showers in the forecast for Saturday, Carberry expects plenty of traffic in the store because of the tall ships.
“There will be a lot of people coming in, and this time, good weather should keep them here,” she said.