Feb 26, 2014 - By Randy Tucker, Staff WriterEconomic expectations are high in Cheyenne when Frontier Days comes around each summer. The business people of Cheyenne refer to the last full week in July as their "harvest season." While nothing in Fremont County rivals the revenue generated by the Grand Daddy of 'Em All, there are significant events spread throughout the year that provide a much need bump to the local economy.
One is the annual regional basketball tournaments in Riverton and Lander. The tournaments first came to Fremont County in 1997 with the Class 1-A held entirely at Lander Valley High School and the Class 2-A tournament held primarily at Riverton's Wolverine Gym, with additional use of either the Riverton Middle School gym or Rustler Gym on the nearby campus of Central Wyoming College.
The three-day tournaments beginning Thursday in both communities bring an estimated 5,000 people to Fremont County. Anyone trying to get a table at a local restaurant, attempting to rent a motel room, or simply shopping at a grocery store detects that something big is going in town.
"Hosting a big tournament is a big help to the community. It's a benefit to everyone," D'Anna Powell of Riverton's Sundowner Station said. "We have schools and their fans stay with us every year."
Not far away on North Federal Boulevard, the Riverton Holiday Inn shares similar experiences. "Typically we'll fill up.We still have a few rooms at this point," general manager Tim Archer said. "We enjoy having the kids here. These tournaments are good for the area. I think they help all the businesses."
Smaller motels benefit from the tournaments as well.
"Our main customers are construction and energy workers," Anna LaPierre of Riverton's Day's Inn said, "but we notice an influx on tournaments. We have Greybull and Cheyenne Central stay with us" during the huge Ron Thon Memorial wrestling tournament each winter.
The increased revenue from full or nearly full occupancy has a positive effect on business at the Day's Inn, and the motel plans to expand. "They're a benefit.We're adding 17 new rooms, a guest laundry a spa and a workout room," LaPierre said.
In an average year motels in Riverton generate more than $12 million in revenue. That is reflected in the 4 percent lodging tax that provides $600,000 countywide and $305,000 in Riverton alone.
Grocery stores also experience an increase in business over the course of a three-day tournament.
"There is definitely a lot of increased business," Mr. D's of Lander manager Warren Dickson said. "You notice a lot of out-of-county license plates in the parking lot."
It's become a common practice for people traveling to Lander from Meeteetse, Ten Sleep, Cokeville, Encampment or Baggs to fill up their pickups with groceries while cheering on their local teams at the tournament.
"I think it helps all the businesses," Dickson said.
Clay Appleby notices fluctuations at the Dairyland Drive Inn in Lander as well.
"It varies. Everybody tries to lure the bus to them, but if the coach wants pizza, they get pizza," he said. "If a bus pulls up, we get to work. It's trial by fire. We just get through it."
Smith's Food and Drug in Riverton is the closest grocery store to Riverton High School, and tournaments often bring increased customer flow.
"We sold an entire pallet of Gatorade one day at the Ron Thon Wrestling Tournament," manager James Kraft said. "You see an increase, but it fluctuates. We have people from Worland shop here regularly, but it's not unusual to see people from 100 miles away, but the tournament drives sales."
Lots of food
Fast-food franchises experience big increases in sales with team meals and fans in a hurry to grab dinner between games.
Leslie Ury, shift supervisor at Arby's in Riverton, puts on additional staff during tournaments.
"We have lots of buses," Ury said.
Arby's monitors sales projections closely and brings in staff to accommodate anticipated increases. "We expected $2,860 in sales on Saturday, Feb. 22, but anticipate $3,785 next Saturday (March 1) on the last day of the basketball tournament," Ury said.
The 30-35 percent increase in sales over the duration of a tournament is reflected in most restaurants in Riverton and Lander.
"It gets crazy in here," said Fred Perrett, owner of Perrett's in Riverton. "I'd like to hire additional staff, but no one is available. We all just work longer. With a small dining room, Perrett's is filled to capacity. Additional space would help during peak times."
The restaurant has an outdoor dining area, but it isn't used in the winter.
Area beverage distributors notice the increase as well.
"We have restaurants ask us to leave extra product," Fremont Distributing general manager Daryl Fullerton said. "Walmart gives us a couple of extra pallets to fill."
After some difficulties with the tournament a year ago Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton is eager to host the event this season.
"We definitely like to sponsor the 2-A tournament," District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder said. "It gives us an opportunity to serve the kids of Fremont County and showcase our school."
The Riverton Chamber of Commerce has provided $3,280 to assist in funding the tournament this year.
"All of the issues worked out," Snyder said. "The community has asked 'what do you need?' and has really helped out.
Holding a sporting event as large as the Class 2-A West regional in midst of a school year presents many challenges but opportunities as well.
"We try to minimize the disruptions with our students," Snyder said. "It's a real good opportunity We have the facilities and a really nice location. It's an opportunity to give back."
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