Free rides give biz boost
Winter Park businesses along Park Avenue saw an economic uptick over the weekend as SunRail brought in thousands of visitors at no cost for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.
The free SunRail weekend resulted in roughly 26,000 riders coming to Winter Park, along with 7,200 on Friday for the opening day of the art festival, said Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Jessica Keane. The free SunRail rides two weeks earlier on March 8 for the opening Orlando City Soccer Club match drew about 9,500 riders, she said.
It was a pleasant sight for Peterbrooke Chocolatier, whose store near the festival’s location in Central Park saw plenty of business.
“It was crazy,” said Peterbrooke employee Zach Mendez. “It was probably two to three times busier than usual. Whenever there’s more customers it’s good for us.”
Forema Boutique Manager Ally Skye said she noticed a leap in business too, and that SunRail should continue offering free weekend rides doing other events like the Doggie Art Festival and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“I hate having to park downtown, so that would be a great way for people to come and shop,” Skye said.
Restaurants saw a boost as well during the festival, enough that Boca Kitchen Bar Market was able to consistently fill 15 extra tables placed in the street.
“I think a lot of it had to do with SunRail,” said Boca manager Kelly Snyder, adding that Friday was the busiest day of all. “I wish it was like that all the time. It’s an excellent way to knock down drinking and driving too.”
But other businesses didn’t see the same boost in sales. The Doggie Door co-owner Brian Wettstein said that while SunRail brought in more people, that can still work against some stores.
“There were definitely more people coming through, but I don’t know if there were more buyers really,” Wettstein said.
“I think they should definitely continue to [offer weekend rides], but they should definitely charge people to ride. That way the people that really want to come here that may be potential buyers are going to come. Sometimes when there are too many people it’s difficult to shop. More isn’t always more.”