Tight money apparently shattered many Dallas merchants’ dreams of a bonanza during the homebuilders convention in January. Somebody somewhere apparently forgot to figure in the recessed economy when advising retailers and food and beverage people on how to prepare for the huge convention. And while Dallas proved it can logistically handle a convention of any size with ease, there are plenty of merchants who will think twice before stocking extra food and adding extra help the next time a convention hits town.
Item: A downtown hotel expected a 100-room overflow from other larger downtown hotels. Twenty rooms were occupied by homebuilders when all was said and done. Several days after the convention closed, the hotel received a Chamber of Commerce letter explaining how to handle the huge crowds.
Item: One downtown seafood restaurant hired extra help and prepared double its normal evening food order. Extra help had to be sent home and stocks of perishable food had to be thrown out.
Where were all the homebuilders and their money? Indeed 48,000 or so did pass through Dallas at one time or another, but not all at once. On a given day, the figure might have been more like 30,000. When in better years they might have brought wives and children, in 1975 they often came alone and doubled up in rooms. When they might have been wining and dining every night and dropping big bucks at area department stores, the homebuilders drank in their own hospitality rooms and ate their meals at the convention center. A post-mortem looks like this:
Hotels – Most of the downtown hotels fared reasonably well, but only because of their ability to recognize the situation early and adjust. Extra staffs were jettisoned on the convention’s second day, when it became painfully obvious they weren’t needed. Although many home-builders canceled their downtown room reservations, generally their rooms were filled by others previously booked in outlying motels. Instead of staying the full five or six days, the average stay was about three days. Shops and restaurants in hotel lobbies didn’t get nearly the business they were expecting.
Restaurants – The city’s leading downtown restaurants fared very well. But businessmen’s restaurants suffered miserably, particularly because of all the publicity given to the convention’s size, keeping regular patrons away. A downtown spaghetti spot had one of its worst weeks ever, throwing away piles of uneaten spaghetti. A steakhouse ordered 75 per cent more meat and still has it in the freezer, after expecting $3,000 business a night and taking in only $600 a night.
Wholesalers -Dealers in milk, food and liquor reported downtown sales were extremely disappointing. One wholesale liquor dealer said his week’s sales were lower than in a normal week.
Walking around downtown at night one wouldn’t have suspected there was a convention in town. A possible explanation is that sure enough, the conventioneers weren’t downtown at all. They were in the suburbs, where chartered buses and courtesy cars took them to outlying restaurants and NorthPark, which did booming business.
Some businessmen viewed the overkill as necessary tobe absolutely certain the whole convention system herewould work. Work it did, but it seems unlikely downtownmerchants will be led into such a beating again.