Restaurants relieved by bustle of first ArtPrize weekend


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — ArtPrize is back, drawing people to downtown and sending them into restaurants that have been hurting for the last 18 months.

Restaurant managers said they were pleased by turnout the first weekend of the mass art competition.

“Thursday, I was a little nervous because I didn’t see as many people downtown as I thought I would. But then by Saturday, I was blown away by how many people came out,” said Shawn Blonk, who oversees three downtown restaurants as vice president of operations for Project BarFly.

All three saw a jump in revenue of between 50% and 150%, he said.

“This is kind of the icing on the cake for us because we really needed this volume of sales going into this weekend and we’re hoping for a good one this next weekend,” Blonk said.

“During the peak of the pandemic, it was tough,” Blonk added. “We were pretty scared. But we just twisted it and tried to make lemonade out of limes — is that what they say?”

He said to help make ends meet, the BarFly restaurants turned to new sources of revenue, like to-go cocktails and outdoor service.

Spin scooters parked in downtown Grand Rapids on Sept. 19, 2021, during ArtPrize. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

Also seeing a boost: the electric scooter and bike services available in downtown Grand Rapids. This is the first ArtPrize they have been an option to get around. Lime, one of the companies that provides the scooters, said it saw a surge in ridership over the last week: there were 7,500 trips last week and 2,500 of those were over the weekend.

“One of the benefits of micromobility is the support we bring to events like ArtPrize, where people can join in without driving and creating traffic or gridlock,” Lime said in a Monday statement to News 8.

Experience Grand Rapids, which supports local tourism, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce also hailed the first weekend of ArtPrize 2021 as a big success, saying the increase in business was seen even outside the downtown area. The chamber said it is checking in with its members about how things went over the first weekend and should have some more information available in the coming days.

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