Watching hydroplanes blow by on the Columbia River and oohing and aahing as aerobatic pilots spin overhead is a boost for Tri-City businesses on Water Follies weekend and beyond.
Each year, the hydroplane races and related events bring tens of thousands of visitors -- and their money -- to the community.
Each summer, visitors spend an estimated $2.6 million at hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses.
Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau president and CEO, said it's difficult to estimate how many spectators come to town for Water Follies because quite a few stay with relatives and friends.
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But she estimated about 6,000 of the 60,000 visitors at last year's event were tourists.
Tri-City hotels will fill about 6,500 room nights between Friday and Sunday, Watkins said. That doesn't mean every room is full, but all of the waterfront hotels tend to book out completely.
Grocery stores especially see a rush, with race-goers picking up food and beverages so they can picnic along the river, Watkins said.
And some visitors also go to the Allied Arts Sidewalk Show in Howard Amon Park on Friday and Saturday and visit area wineries as a break from the races, Watkins said.
And though some Tri-City businesses shut down on Sunday during the peak of the annual event because there are few customers, others welcome the extra bump in spending.
The REI store in Kennewick tends to see people stop for last-minute purchases, said Jeff Wilson, a sales manager. He said they try to have a good number of light-weight camp chairs on hand. Sunscreen and water bottles are also in demand.
He expects to sell quite a few of the insulated water bottles, such as Hydro Flask, which are vacuum-sealed to keep cold drinks cool for a long time.
This will be Columbia River Rentals' first Water Follies since owner Nigel Jourdain opened this spring at Columbia Park Marina at the west end of Columbia Park to rent pontoon boats and kayaks.
By Monday, he had few boats left to rent, with Saturday being completely booked.
His 24-foot party boats fit 16 people and rent out for the day from 9 a.m. to sundown and include a tank of gas and life jackets.
Jourdain really expects Follies to give his business a boost beyond this weekend as more customers learn about what he has to rent.
At the Richland Airport, Sundance Aviation owner Clif Dyer also plans to see a bump in business because the annual air show tends to inspire some spectators to want to learn to fly.
But for some businesses like Greenies near Howard Amon Park in Richland, Water Follies doesn't have much of an impact.
Greenies owner Darin Warnick said he sees the normal summer demand for kayak and paddleboard rentals on boat race weekend.
It's far enough from Columbia Park that those who want to enjoy the river can still go out and be away from the crowds.
Paddleboards -- where someone stands on a surfboard like board and uses a paddle to maneuver around -- have been especially popular this year, he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com