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Merchants get boost from Sailabration

As the nearly 40 tall ships and naval vessels that filled Baltimore’s harbor for the last week depart Tuesday, area businesses will continue to have something to celebrate: A boost to their bottom lines.

Ashley Maier (left), a saleswoman at Pandora’s Box in Federal Hill, shows customer Holly Patel the panels that were big sellers over the Star-Spangled Sailabration weekend.

The Star-Spangled Sailabration, the kickoff of the state’s 32-month War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration, started with the arrival of ships on Wednesday. It included a waterfront festival, symphony, and two air shows featuring the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. It was expected to draw close to 1 million visitors.

For Monesha Phillips, owner of Pandora’s Box, a jewelry and accessory shop on East Cross Street in Federal Hill, the throngs of people meant bigger sales and longer hours.

“It brought people that normally wouldn’t venture off to Federal Hill who wanted to see how the locals actually lived,” she said.

Phillips said she started to feel the increase on Friday. On Saturday, sales hit the roof.

The store carries bricks and panels depicting local sites painted by Maryland artist Linda Amtmann. On a good Saturday, Phillips said she sells about 10 pieces by Amtmann. On Saturday, she sold 52 and kept her store open an additional three hours.

And, while an average sale is usually from $25 to $35, during Sailabration it was from $50 to $65.

“This clearly was a difference in sales and in businesses,” said Phillips, adding that a lot of her weekend customers were from Boston, New York and New Jersey.

With 24,000 guests from Thursday to Sunday, the Baltimore Visitors Center, next to Harborplace’s Light Street Pavilion, saw its highest number of people in any four-day span since opening in May 2004, said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism agency.

That’s compared to 5,469 visitors who stopped by during the corresponding period last year, and 8,500 people during the four-day period of the inaugural Grand Prix during Labor Day weekend.

“It’s indicative of how many sheer number of people were in the city,” Noonan said, adding that he expects the economic impact of Sailabration to greatly surpass the $47 million generated by the Grand Prix, which drew more than 160,000 fans downtown over three days last September.

Mary Ann Cricchio, owner of Da Mimmo restaurant in Little Italy, said the commemoration was also good for her neighborhood, which saw negative effects during the Grand Prix. Business at Da Mimmo was up about 30 percent from the corresponding Friday through Sunday of last year, she said, and the restaurant ran a shuttle service for patrons who wanted to go to the Inner Harbor or Fells Point.

Baltimore hotels typically do well during summer weekends, said Richard Seale, director of sales for the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel on East Pratt Street, which was fully booked for the weekend.

The hotel would have likely sold out with or without Sailabration, but “certainly something like this makes it a whole lot easier to sell out,” he said.

Niyi Adekanye, assistant general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn on South President Street, said his hotel had at least 98 percent occupancy for the duration of Sailabration.

Echoing that selling out on Friday and Saturday is normal, he said Sailabration brought the added bonus of a full hotel on Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Monday.

“A year ago, we wouldn’t have had that,” he said.

Business at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, however, went largely unchanged. While Saturday’s attendance of more than 7,000 visitors was up 5 percent from the corresponding time last year, Sunday’s attendance of almost 6,000 was flat in comparison to last year, according to Steven Schindler, chief marketing officer for the aquarium.

“I think that the thing that was really an unknown for us … was the degree to which people who were visiting the Inner Harbor to really see the tall ships … are focused on the aquarium,” said Schindler, who added that he was happy with the weekend’s results.

“The energy and the vibe and the crowds and all of the smiles and happy people walking around the Inner Harbor were incredible,” he said. “I think more importantly for us is the manner in which Baltimore has been presented as a great place for people to visit.”

And if that wasn’t good news enough, Sailabration overlaps with the presence of about 2,500 convention planners, who are descending on Baltimore from Tuesday to Thursday as the city hosts AIBTM, the annual conference of The Americas Meetings & Events Exhibitions.