TAMPA—It happens every four years.
Leaders sell their community on hosting a political convention by talking about the economic development it will generate. And that is undeniable to anyone assessing the full flights, full hotels, and busy taxis this weekend around Tampa, site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
But as was the case in Boston in 2004, when a shutdown of North Station and the erection of an armed camp around the TD Garden sent many fleeing to Cape Cod, the Maine coast, or the White Mountains, conventions also have a way of killing business.
Especially in the post-9/11 era that has inspired authorities to ring entire neighborhoods in unscalable steel fencing to ward off a terrorist attack.
“We’re at max staff and very few customers,” said a bartender inside what is ground zero for the convention, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, where presumptive nominee Mitt Romney will stay. “We’re loaded up with food and beer but don’t have anyone to sell it to.”
Even outside the Draconian security perimeter, everyone is ready for a party that has been slow to materialize.
At the Doubletree Hotel near the airport, a full complement of waiters and waitresses manned the sports bar on Saturday—and watched the televisions themselves because they had only a handful of customers.
Maids dusted unused public areas and swept the deck around a swimmer-less outdoor pool.
Experience shows that certain marquee businesses—in Tampa that includes steakhouses like Bern’s and Charley’s—clean up during conventions.
Delegates, reporters, and political enthusiasts are eager to experience each community’s signature enterprises.
But with official convention parties for delegates, and plenty of private parties thrown for fund-raisers and other members of the convention audience, it’s often caterers that do better than second-tier hospitality providers during the week.
Things have only been exacerbated in Tampa by concern over the approaching storm Isaac, which prompted organizers to cancel Monday’s convention session and has left some delegates hunkering down in their rooms.
The Marriott bartenders are hoping that inspires everyone to stay in and drink—a lot.
The $5 Sailor Jerry is a speciality.Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.