Modesto businesses gear up for Tour's arrival

Eateries, motels, shops expect race to be win for them

May 17, 2010 

Downtown Modesto business owners hope a blue sky will bring lots of green to town with the Amgen Tour of California.

Restaurants, hotels and other shops are gearing up for the race to swing into Modesto on Wednesday as the finish for the fourth leg of the eight-stage competition.

Despite cold weather and rain in February last year, many downtown establishments nearly doubled their midweek business thanks to the influx of fans, tour staff and curious onlookers.

This time with warm, dry weather forecast, they're expecting to do even better.

"I would think it's going to be at least twice as much, like we did last year," said Mitch Maisetti, co-owner of Clayton's and Tresetti's restaurants. "The sky is the limit."

Maisetti has doubled his staff for Wednesday and has added Amgen-themed entrees and drinks to both menus.

His optimism is shared by fellow downtown restaurateur Mark Smallwood, who runs Harvest Moon with wife Charlene.

The I Street restaurant is sponsoring the Harvest Moon Criterium, a new pre-Amgen exhibition race earlier in the day.

"We expect big crowds and big business," Smallwood said. "I think it'll be better than last year. We expect craziness."

He said people keep calling to reserve a coveted patio spot, but all the tables will be first-come, first-serve.

Across the street at Bacchus Food & Spirits, general manager Trinity Amador-Stewart has taken reservations for her patio seating for the past month. She also plans to serve Amgen-themed appetizer and cocktail specials.

She said last year business was double an average weekday, and this year she has doubled up on her bartenders and tripled her wait staff.

"The midweek timing is ideal for all of us," she said. "I think definitely a lot more people know about it this year than last year."

Bacchus and a dozen other downtown restaurants will take part in the voucher program for Amgen staff.

The Modesto organizing committee gave out more than 400 $15 food vouchers good at participating restaurants to help feed the army of staff and crew who work behind the scenes.

The Thailand Restaurant on 10th Street had several tour staff stop by last year. Owner owner Pheng Bouathong said she hadn't expected so many additional weekday diners. This year she has enlisted her daughter, sister and husband to help on race day.

"Last year (the Amgen tour staff) said they'll see me again next year," she said. "I hope they remember me. I will be still here."

But even business owners who did not benefit from last year's influx of racing fans are hopeful this time. Bouathong's next-door neighbor, Beckles Candies & Gifts, will increase its Amgen presence with a booth at the Lifestyle Festival and sidewalk signs.

Owner Eddi Marie Julian said last year was a bust.

"It was very slow last year, it did not bring traffic to us at all," she said. "But I think the weather had something to do it. So we are more optimistic and hoping for some good weather."

Beckles will sell candy and fudge at the booth, as well as have all the normal treats available in the store.

Jennifer Mullen, executive director and chief executive officer of the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 10,000 to 15,000 people watched the race last year. Without wet weather, those numbers could double.

"I think there will be stronger crowds because of better weather," Mullen said. "This is the third year we're doing it, and people know it's an event not to be missed. I think the word of mouth is getting out more."

Accompanying race-day events also will increase this year. The Harvest Moon Criterium starts at 11:30 a.m. The all-day Lifestyle Festival on I Street between Seventh and 13th streets has increased from 120 to 150 booths.

Downtown venues will have pre- and post-race events, including a Bike to the Bands concert at the Copper Rhino tonight, screening of the cycling documentary "Chasing Legends" at The State Theatre, and the Detour of Da Tour III show at the Fat Cat Music House on Wednesday night.

At least one sector of the economy will do well rain or shine -- lodging. Downtown's Best Western Town House Lodge, where Lance Armstrong and his entourage stayed last year, is booked near capacity.

Front desk clerk John Forbes said calls started coming in two months ago.

"We're basically booked," he said. "It's awesome for us."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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