When students leave for the summer, all aspects of life in and around the University of Georgia campus slow down — especially in the downtown business scene.
The number of people spending money at Athens shops, restaurants, bars and music venues drops by about 16,000, as UGA enrollment cuts in half.
“Money is always tight in the summer here,” said Norman Scholz, general manager at The Globe, a restaurant and bar on the corner of North Lumpkin and Clayton Streets in downtown.
Scholz said The Globe is not as heavily affected by the drop in the number of students as some other establishments, because it caters to an older crowd, but it does see an approximately 30 percent drop in its overall weekly sales.
Typical bars, that rely predominantly on the sale of alcohol, also see a dip in sales, said Hedges on Broad owner David Ippisch.
But in the desert that is summer for many local businesses, there is an economic oasis — AthFest.
The music festival, which supports AthFest Educates, a nonprofit supporting high-quality music and arts education for Athens-Clarke County students, was also designed 20 years ago to benefit local business owners stuck in the economic summer slump.
“It was one of the original mission statements to help businesses out during the summer,” Scholz said.
Scholz said revenue at The Globe last year during the week leading up to AthFest — a year the restaurant did not host a show -— was about $23,000, with the majority of sales coming from the Friday and Saturday of AthFest. The week before AthFest in 2015, The Globe made about $16,000 in sales and the week after about $14,000.
The pattern was similar in 2014, with the week of AthFest earning The Globe about $31,000 in sales and the week prior and after only about $16,000 and $20,000, respectively, Scholz said, although he attributed some of those sales during AthFest week to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Scholz as well as Troy Aubrey, who is the booking chair for AthFest, said the revenue generated by sales during the AthFest weekend is comparable to a smaller, non-rival football game weekend in the fall.
“It’s not as big as Auburn or a big SEC school, but it is comparable,” Scholtz said.
For the week of the Southern University football game last fall, The Globe saw about $20,000 in sales and for the University of South Carolina game about $25,000.
In comparison, a large SEC game such as the University of Alabama game earned The Globe about $35,000 in sales for the week.
The businesses that will make the most profit from AthFest attendees are ones hosting shows, such as The Globe this year and The Foundry, or the ones closest to the Pulaski and Hull Street stages, said Robert Martinez, who is a show coordinator at The Foundry.
Above anything else, the influence that AthFest has on the local economy ties directly in with the number of “heads on pillows,” said Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the University of Georgia Simon S. Selig Center for Economic Growth.
The more revenue an event such as AthFest or a football game can contribute to the local economy depends on the number of people who are coming from out of town to spend money, who would not normally contribute to the sales in most businesses in Athens, he said.
Unfortunately, Martinez said AthFest is generally a townie driven event, but, recently as the festival grows, more visitors come and add to the local economy.
“You get a lot of people that come back for AthFest weekend, like students that are gone for the summer,” Aubrey said. It’s a lot like a football game in that way as well, he said.
City-wide, the occupancy percentage in Athens hotels was about 65 percent on the Wednesday leading up to AthFest last year and was 75 percent and 86 percent on the Friday and Saturday of AthFest, respectively, according to numbers provided to The Red & Black from the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau.
On the Saturdays of the Georgia Southern University and the Alabama football games, city-wide, Athens hotels were at 97 percent occupancy.
Julia Shotwell, the guest services manager at Hotel Indigo, said for AthFest last year, the hotel saw 99 percent occupancy with the majority of reservations coming in on the Thursday and Friday as the festival started.
“Bands will reach out to fans, friends and family who end up reserving last minute,” she said.
As of press time, Shotwell said Indigo was at 75 percent occupancy for this weekend, but expected the percentage to rise, as it has in the past.
Whatever the economic influence AthFest has on local business, Scholtz said he is thankful for the festival.
“We appreciate it, certainly,” Scholz said.