Jean Hatchett stood in line Friday at the MU bookstore with an armload of Mizzou t-shirts, jewelry and stuffed toys to take back to her grandchildren in Perris, Calif.
Hatchett was in town to see her niece, Erica Byfield, graduate from MU’s School of Journalism.
More than 4,000 students will have graduated during the university’s three days of ceremonies, which means families and friends from across the U.S. and around the world have converged on Columbia to help them celebrate. Like Hatchett, most of them will buy memorabilia, eat out and try to get a good night’s sleep.
That means big business for Columbia’s hotels and restaurants as well as plenty of traffic congestion for everyone else.
Travelers wanting to make hotel reservations for the weekend needed to start looking months ago. Bayfield’s mom, Frances, booked five rooms in November.
“And I was late!” she said.
Josh Deutsch of the Holiday Inn Express said he started getting reservations for this weekend back in July, and the hotel’s 65 rooms were all taken by December. He also said it’s not unusual for Columbia hotels to be full this time of year.
Hotels do cash in on the increased demand for rooms, though. The Holiday Inn Express charges $109 for a room during graduation weekend compared to the usual $94, while the Regency Downtown charges $139 this weekend instead of the normal $79.
Restaurants also get a big boost from the weekend. At the Heidelberg on Friday, a steady stream of visitors flowed in and out of the restaurant. Owners and managers plan on the crowd every year and schedule extra servers. The Heidelberg had seven servers on hand as well as hostess Claire Beckmeyer who said she had to start a waiting list for the lunchtime crowd, which is unusual.
“This is crazy,” she said.
Mike and Judy DeBouck of Decatur, Ill. ate lunch at the restaurant with their daughter Beth, who graduated this weekend.
“I’ve been here half a dozen times,” Mike said.
The first was when he skipped his daughter’s freshman parent orientation.
Heavy traffic on Stadium Boulevard in front of Mizzou Arena because of ceremonies had police manually operating traffic lights in an effort to ease the congestion. Drivers might expect more delays today as graduation activities at the arena and at the Hearnes Center continue.