COLUMBIA - What do the tens of thousands of people attending the Show-Me State Games do after the final buzzers and whistles sound?
"Eat, shop and swim," said Lindsay Fieser of Cuba, Mo., whose son, Tyler, competed in the baseball competition July 26.
This year 2,500 individual athletes and members of 1,116 teams registered for the first two weekends of the games - and that's not including the parents, siblings, grandparents and friends who came out to support the players. During chunks of time between events, aspiring athletes and their entourages headed off the courts and fields and ventured outside the sports complexes.
The influx of travelers into the Columbia economy is significant.
"Hotels and restaurants benefit greatly," Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. "We've done sales receipt studies from a variety of events and we're always surprised by where money goes."
Steiner said that along with money flowing into local restaurants and stores, visitors may also spend money on less expected items in drug stores and craft stores.
"Its about an $8 million direct impact," Steiner said of the revenue the games bring into Columbia, which she estimates would stimulate an extended economic impact of $16 million.
First on many people's minds, it seemed, was food. On the sidelines, discussion of dining options bounced from T.G.I. Friday's and Chevy's to the food court at the Columbia Mall to grilling at hotels.
Crystal Goeringer, assistant manager of Chevys near Interstate 70, said that last weekend they served 1,269 people during dinner on Friday and Saturday, including a 60-person party Saturday night. A typical weekend dinner count is 800-900. "It's three weekends that (the athletes) get to shine," Goeringer said. "We make sure they get their food fast and they have a good time while they're here."
Some returning competitors were familiar with the area and had favorite spots.
"It's half and half," Shakespeare's general manager Tobias Epstein said. "A lot of people have never been here before and aren't sure if we have a hostess or waiters. The other half have been coming here for years."
The self-serve-style restaurant saw multiple groups both weekends. "The area almost feels more like a cafeteria," Epstein said. "Kids are all over the place, adults are standing around."
Steiner said, "Many of them are familiar with Columbia but the state games are a great opportunity to showcase the community."
However, the players' schedules still dictated the weekend activities. Amy Brown of Russellville said for the second day of their visit they weren't sure what they'd end up doing. "Last weekend we went to the mall; you can eat, shop, whatever," Brown said. "Tomorrow it will depend on what time people are playing and if we win or lose."