Following an Ironman race this month that shut down Hillsborough Street for an entire Sunday and gutted some retail sales, shop owners on the street are asking city leaders to give them a break from road closures.
Hillsborough Street has become one of the most popular routes for road races with closures nearly every month. Raleigh City Council members say they’re looking at ways to spread the events more evenly throughout the city, and several stores say the closures are bad for business.
“If Hillsborough Street is the only road that Raleigh has for these events, then Raleigh is not big enough to host them,” Cup A Joe owner Jeff Gold wrote to the city council. “We are begging you to please consider the businesses that are interfered with by these events.”
Race organizers have said their events can boost local shops and restaurants by bringing in crowds of runners and spectators. But many of the races that use Hillsborough – including Ironman and April’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon – leave much of their economic impact downtown, where the start and finish lines are located.
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Enoch Marchant owns Nice Price Books, where sales during Ironman were down 50 percent from a typical Sunday. “In a word, it’s awful,” he said. “It was a dead store for awhile. Most people just didn’t come.”
Across the street, Reader’s Corner and Subconscious became inaccessible by car because of the closure. Marchant said his neighbors debated whether to open on Sunday at all.
At Guru Guitars, owner Howard Critcher wrote to the council that the timing of the races hurts the shop on “our busiest (by far) hours of the week.”
City Councilman Thomas Crowder, whose district includes Hillsborough Street, said businesses on the strip ought to benefit from the events if they’re going to be inconvenienced. “If we’re going to use Hillsborough Street as the main course, we need to have some of these events start and stop there,” he said.
Marchant said that could help, but he’d prefer shorter street closings. Ironman closed Hillsborough for much of the day because its course had runners going back and forth between downtown and Meredith College. “What would make the most difference is to never pass the same place twice,” the bookseller suggested.
Hillsborough Street merchants were also upset that they weren’t notified about Ironman until the day before the race. Derick Remer, who heads the city’s special events office, said the triathlon’s organizer make a mistake in sending out mailings; he later went door-to-door notifying businesses.
Gold says that road closures have been lasting far longer than race organizers predict. Races typically provide estimated times for roadblocks, but the actual reopening is determined by the last runner in the event.
Raleigh’s overall road race policies are under review and will be on an upcoming city council agenda.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough Street will be shut down again today from 5 a.m. to noon as the Komen Race for the Cure makes its way from Meredith College to N.C. State and through surrounding neighborhoods.