The Woodward Dream Cruise brings big bucks and international exposure to communities along the historic avenue each August, but business owners say the event is a blessing and a curse.
The cruise benefits the region as a whole – with hotels and restaurants throughout Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties coming out as winners – but results in soft sales and shuttered doors for many merchants along the 16-mile parade route that stretches from Ferndale to Pontiac.
Metro Detroit hotels, restaurants benefit
Michael O'Callaghan, executive vice president and COO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Friday that the Dream Cruise – which is expected to attract 1.5 million people – brings in approximately $56 million for businesses in the three-county area.
"The real true winners are the hotels and restaurants," he said. "We will see about a 10 percent increase in hotel occupancy this week compared to the weekends on either shoulder."
O'Callaghan said most of the hotel bookings are in Oakland County – including in Royal Oak, Birmingham and Blomfield Hills – with some spillover into Macomb and Wayne counties.
He said Dream Cruise visitors spend, on average, approximately $250 per day on hotel rooms and restaurant bills.
"So in the big picture of things, they're producing a lot of money for the communities that have hotels," O'Callaghan said.
Some small businesses take a hit
However, many business owners along the parade route say cruise fans bring their own food and beverages and only patronize nearby establishments to use the bathrooms. As a result, many businesses see soft sales during Dream Cruise weekend and opt to close or reduce their hours.
"This is a free entertainment crowd," said Jeremy Haberman, who owns the Magic Bag in Ferndale. "They're self-contained. They come in with coolers."
He said that, over the years, the concert venue has tried a variety of ways to capitalize on the event – including booking Bo Diddley; renting out the space; and offering free movies, rockabilly shows and Beatles tribute concerts – without success.
At ROUGE, a makeup and nail studio in Ferndale, owner Cheryl Salinas-Tucker said customers who called about appointments Saturday changed their minds once they realized it was Dream Cruise weekend, which reinforced her decision to close that day.
"Really it's because no one can get to my business," she said, pointing out that her parking lot is rented out for one of the Dream Cruise events. "We don't want to be a bathroom, either.
"It's just one day," she said. "To us, it's not a big deal. I know a lot of people do take quite a hit; but we just see it as a Saturday off, which we rarely get."
Exposure is 'priceless'
Westborn Market in Berkley takes the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach by hosting the annual Champagne Cruise fundraiser Friday night and staying open with reduced staff and hours Saturday as a courtesy to customers, marketing director Bryan Bandyk said.
"It does impact, negatively, sales on Saturday," Bandyk said. "Friday, we've made a cognitive business decision to get involved and host the Forgotten Harvest fundraiser, which is a kickoff to the cruise.
"It is what it is. You're not going to be able to fight that," he said. "We just have a fraction of the business; sales will be down 75 percent (Saturday). On the other hand, we realize the overall value it brings to the community."
Westborn will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, when it will have reduced staff and fewer offerings at the seafood counter and prepared foods kitchen, Bandyk said; the grocery normally is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days.
"You embrace (the Dream Cruise), you do the best you can and you enjoy the energy. We might get a few new folks who walk through our doors, so there's definitely value there," Bandyk said. "We do support the event. As a business owner in the community, we do see the value it brings."
That's a sentiment O'Callaghan, from the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, echoed.
"The reality is that the communities on Woodward are blessed with it, so the trick is to take advantage of all the extra activity," he said. "Hopefully it's attracting visitors back to Woodward Avenue, visitors who drove over from Toledo or Dearborn. Hopefully, they'll see something they like and come back."
O'Callaghan said the Woodward corridor's exposure during the event cannot be undervalued – a film crew from as far away as Australia will be in this weekend for the event.
"I know Saturday can be hard for some of those businesses," he said. "But, at the same time, it's bringing positive international attention to those communities and, in my mind, that's priceless."
Ferndale Patch Editor Jessica Schrader contributed to this report.