Despite road closures, area businesses claim the Carmel Marathon helps attract new customers
By Adam Aasen
Thousands of runners are about to descend upon Carmel hoping to set an array of course and personal records.
The runners will be Carmel Marathon participants, with hordes of onlookers and family members filling the streets on that April 12 afternoon.
Some might say the street closures on that day will put the city at a standstill. And if nobody can drive anywhere, that won’t be good for local businesses.
But Todd Oliver, president and race director of the Carmel Marathon, said that’s not the case. In fact, he believes the annual event, now in its fourth year, has a positive economic impact on the area.
He believes they’ve planned extensively to minimize any road delays and the more than 3,800 participants should mean more customers for restaurants and hotels. More than 75 percent of the race participants every year are from outside Carmel and Indianapolis.
“I really believe Carmel Marathon is healthy for runners and healthy for local businesses,” said Paul O’Connor, general manager of the Renaissance Hotel, which fills up during race weekend.
From all over the world
So far for 2014, runners have registered from about 600 ZIP codes, including 37 states and several foreign nations including Austria, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Japan. About a third of all runners are from outside the state of Indiana.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he loves to see all of the new visitors in the area.
“These events are great for the local economy as they fill hotel rooms and bring visitors to our shops and restaurants,” he said in a statement. “In addition, the media outlets that cover these events highlight our community as part of the story, which helps spread the word about what a great place Carmel is to live, work and enjoy life.”
Oliver said it’s important for him to let everyone know what an economic impact the race has on the area. That’s because some might view the road closings as an annoyance. And he wants the city to keep approving his event permits.
The race is mostly funded through registration fees. They are a for-profit company that, contrary to popular opinion, receives no taxpayer money to support the event. Even the off-duty police officers who direct traffic are paid by the marathon, which is its biggest expense at about $26,000.
Kent State University researchers are currently working with Oliver to conduct a complete economic impact study of the Carmel Marathon on the area.
Oliver also hopes he can increase the reputation of the race, which could in turn bring more positive attention to the city. In its short history, the full marathon race is now a top-100 ranked marathon and the second largest in the state of Indiana. The weekend also boasts the seventh largest half marathon in the state.
Businesses ready for runners
With the influx of visitors, local businesses are preparing to attract these customers.
Amanda Salfity, sales manager at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Indianapolis-Carmel, said they are completely booked for the night prior to the event – and that’s not just the block of rooms reserved for runners, it’s the entire place.
“We’re estimating the majority of the hotel will be occupied by guests traveling to Carmel specifically for this year’s marathon,” she said.
The Renaissance Hotel staff said they not only see increased calls for reservations, but their restaurant – Grille 39 – sees higher business levels during the course of events.
Amanda Williams, manager of Matt the Millers Tavern, located near the start line, said people line up on their patio before they even open for lunch that day, hoping to relax and watch the runners. The night before she said it’s not uncommon to see people order triple-orders of pasta to load up on carbs.
The Stacked Pickle has been the official meeting place for the post-race party. Staff members often wear race gear and Oliver said he’s even purchased appetizers for race participants to enjoy at the festivities.
Race has benefits for all
And it’s not just hotels and restaurants that are affected. Local health and fitness stores say they believe the marathon has caused an increase in interest in running in the area.
Massage Envy is very busy that weekend, with numerous people scheduling appointments to take care of their bodies.
Jesse Davis, a manager at the Runner’s Forum in Carmel, said he sees a lot more customers as race day gets near.
“There’s definitely a build-up,” he said. “These kinds of races really drive our traffic.”
Many potential runners shop at his store to pick his brain. That’s because Jesse won the full marathon the past two years and the half-marathon during its first year. Davis also qualified to race in the Olympic marathon trials in Houston in 2012. Customers ask him what types of shoes to buy or which nutrition products are good for energy. And he’s happy to help.
One local business owner even created a new strategy around bringing in Carmel Marathon participants as customers. Natalie Perez-Hayden, owner of Body, Mind and Core Yoga Studio, created a new class called “Yoga for Runners.”
“The needs of our students come first,” she said. “There’s a huge running community, so we saw there was a need.”
They kicked off the new class on March 3 with a huge turnout of new customers. It will meet on Monday nights at their studio located on Range Line Road.
Perez-Hayden contacted the Carmel Marathon to see if they would send an e-mail out to their participants about the class. But to get the marathon’s stamp of approval – and access to their lengthy e-mail list with 26,000 addresses – she had to explain exactly what they would be doing in the class so it would be suitable for runners. Carmel Marathon officials toured the studio and made suggestions about how runners could benefit.
That’s because Oliver says he gets plenty of requests from businesses and other running races about promotion. In the past, Carmel Marathon sent out e-mails about any race to help people, but now Oliver said he looks at things more closely before recommending it to his connections.
“Sometimes people would have a bad experience at one of these races and they would complain to us,” he said. “I had to explain that we were just doing someone a favor by promoting it but now we know that anything we send out there really reflects on us so we make sure it is up to our standard.”
Dealing with closures
Since they approved the road closures, Carmel city officials take it upon themselves to minimize any negative effects. Not only do they provide advice on the race path and times, but their biggest priority is making sure people are aware of the closures so they can plan their day.
“We learn each year how to better handle road closures associated with races such as the Carmel Marathon,” Brainard said. “We understand the inconvenience that widespread closures can create for our residents and businesses so we try to minimize the closures and restrictions as much as possible.”
Oliver encourages anyone who might be wondering how to get somewhere that day to contact the marathon. Off the top of his head, he rattles off alternate paths for people all the time. It’s something he’s used to.
Oliver said he understands that people might complain about the roads, but that’s par for the course.
“You can never completely be complaint free,” he said. “The Boston Marathon is the oldest race in the United States. It’s more than a hundred years old and the city still receives about 200 complaints every year. So you can’t worry too much about it.”
The Carmel Marathon has a wide variety of ways that members of the public can get involved. To learn more about volunteer opportunities visit: