Southern 500s longevity brings big bucks to Pee Dee economy

DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - City officials say Darlington is definitely getting a big boost in business from the Southern 500, with people staying in local hotels, eating at the restaurants there and shopping locally.

Local business owners and vendors at the Darlington Raceway give mixed reactions on how business is really going this week.

"There's been a lot more traffic coming along and well it seems like there's going to be a lot more coming," said Riley Carter who works at one of the shops at Ivana's near the Darlington Raceway.

Tens of thousands of NASCAR fans are expected to flock to Darlington to attend the Southern 500.

Local businesses like the Raceway Grill have had an increase in customers this week.

Some NASCAR fans say the Southern 500 has turned into more than just a one-day race.

"We come out for a week for two, when before we used to just come for a couple days," said NASCAR fan, Roy Ivey Jr.

Several events featuring the racecar drivers were held across the Pee Dee days before the race, bringing in more fans for a longer period of time.

"The city gets more revenue and more business, more people that's coming in and enjoying the little town of Darlington," said Carter.

Darlington Raceway directors released data from a study, showing state-wide, the raceway brings in about $54 million a year.

Although most local business owners say this race has brought them more green, vendors who set up shop right across from the track say otherwise.

"I've been coming here for 8 years and has gone downhill because of the economy, gas prices," said Steve Keller, a vendor from Florida.

Some vendors say they haven't seen much traffic in their sales area, saying people are trying to save their money and just aren't buying from them.

"Eighty-percent of the vendors are out of business and we're still not doing the numbers we used to, it's hard for us to come back here," said Eric Schmidt, a vendor from North Carolina.

Eric Schmidt says he forked out $2,500 in county and state fees, and property rental, before he even sold a T-shirt.

Some vendors say they come down just to visit with friends and to get the experience.

"I come out here and make just enough to cover the cost of the race I come out and visit and enjoy the race, you don't really make a lot," said Ron Wilson, an out-of-state vendor.

Although some vendors feel like they are being nickel and dimed to set up shop in Darlington, the money from the business licenses and fees all go back into our state and local economy.

Local business owners are expecting an even bigger crowd for tomorrow's race.

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