Each January, immediately after Homecoming weekend has been announced, local hotels begin to book rooms almost 10 months in advance, says Steven Noto, corporate general manager of the Stoney Creek Hospitality Corp. under which Columbia’s newly opened Stoney Creek Inn operates.
“In our pre-marketing, we’ve tried to focus on contacting the major employers in the community, and letting them know what we have to offer,” he says. “The University has been great to work with.”
All of the hotel’s 180 available rooms were booked for Homecoming weekend before its opening Aug. 18 because of a reservation system set up at another Stoney Creek Inn.
“It’s a great feeling (to know) that people are taking notice and are excited that we are here,” Noto says.
The Holiday Inn Select Executive Center of Columbia is almost entirely booked for Homecoming weekend as well, says Bob McDonald, general manager.
“That weekend ranks (as) one of the busiest of the year,” he says.
Homecoming weekend also rates as one of the busiest times for local convenience stores, says Kenny McClure, manager of business development for MFA Oil, under which Columbia’s 12 Break Time convenience stores operate.
“There’s no question that business picks up on football weekends, especially Homecoming weekend,” he says.
The three outlets, at the intersection of U.S. 63 and I-70, at the intersection of Providence Road and Nebraska Street, and on Stadium Boulevard, are expected to be the busiest because of football stadium traffic, says McClure.
“It’s everything we have in our store: ice, soda, beer, chips, Mizzou T-shirts,” he says.
McClure says inclement weather is the one factor that can change sales, even on big weekends such as Homecoming.
Once visitors have made their way to Faurot Field, the Hearnes Center concessions staff and volunteers are busy serving the thousands of patrons.
Ordering enough food to accommodate such a large number of people is a challenge, says Meribeth Long, senior concessions clerk.
“We base our orders on the time of day, what game it is, what the weather is like, and what we did at the similar game last year,” she says. “We expect the crowds to be busier this year than it was last year because it’s been a winning season.”
At last year’s Homecoming game, 4,017 hot dogs were sold, 2,193 pretzels, and 2,305 nacho trays.
Long says the food order will be placed at the beginning of Homecoming week, and Faurot Field’s 20 concessions stands will begin to be stocked shortly after that. During the game, stands are restocked as needed from two nearby warehouses.
“By game day, we’re ready,” she says. “We pretty much have this down pat.”
After a full afternoon spent tailgating and watching football, local restaurants are visited by “obscenely more” customers than usual, says Kurt Mirtsching, co-owner of Shakespeare’s Pizza.
Mirtsching says Homecoming weekend is typically the restaurant’s biggest of the year, with 1,548 pizzas having been sold the Saturday of Homecoming weekend last year. About 968 pizzas are sold on a typical Saturday.
A common scenario on homecoming weekend, Mirtsching says, is for the place to become so full that a sign is hung on the door reading, “Full to fire code capacity. No admittance.”
“(Eventually) the place is full, it’s a two-hour wait on pizzas, and we don’t even take any more orders,” he says. “You can’t even get into the restaurant because people are packed like sardines all through the store.”
Mirtsching’s most notable memory of Homecoming weekend illustrates just how overcrowded the restaurant can become.
“Years ago, we had a guy punch a pregnant woman as they were fighting over a chair,” he says.
Although the woman was fine and the man was arrested, the scene was not atypical for that night. With or without mishaps, says Mirtsching, Shakespeare’s Pizza will be “total anarchy” on the night of Oct. 25.
Consider it a sign of homecoming.