By Jeff Mordock
Delaware's three music festivals could pump as much as $100 million into the local economy by the end of the summer, according to Firefly Music Festival's organizers.
Firefly attendees added $68 million to the regional economy last year, a study by event organizers and the University of Delaware reported. This year, with the addition of the Big Barrel Country Music Festival and Delaware Junction Music and Camping Festival, concert-goers could add between $90 million and $100 million.
"Firefly is certainly going to generate more than $68 million this year because we've sold more tickets," said Michael Tatoian, president of Dover International Speedway, where both Firefly and Big Barrel will occur. "Big Barrel is smaller, but it's not out of line to think these two music festivals could have the impact of $90 million or $100 million to the community."
Event vendors and hotel operators are expected to see the biggest gain from tourists traveling to Delaware. However, area retail outlets that cater to local residents could see little or no gain from the influx of people.
One retailer, who declined to be identified but operates a store in the raceway's shadow, said Firefly has not generated an economic benefit since it began in 2012.
"Firefly doesn't hurt us, but it doesn't help us," the retailer said. "It doesn't kill us like the NASCAR races, but we don't get a benefit."
Pam Betterley, the merchandise team leader for Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores in Dover, said her store relies heavily on local customers, who stay home during the concerts.
"We noticed sales drop dramatically during Firefly," she said. "People in the local area are afraid to come because of all the traffic."
Coincidentally, Jo-Ann Fabric is running a Firefly Frenzy sale at its stores throughout the country. The sale is not related to the concert, but is a reference to the fireflies lighting up summer nights. The company says it's run the sale for years before Firefly existed.
"It's just a coincidence," Betterley said.
Vendors that serve these events fare much better than establishments that rely on local residents for business.
Wilmington Home Amusements owner Scott Carey has operated an arcade at Firefly in recent years. He said his contract with Firefly has really given him a boost.
"It is a huge, huge contract for us," Carey said. "It's our biggest contract, and it gives us a sense of personal pride just to be part of something so big."
Carey has expanded this year's arcade to 10,000 square feet from 6,000 square feet last year and increased the number of games by 20 percent. He said the arcade will have a bar this year, but his company will not be involved in operating it.
"It's just fun to be a part of Firefly and then to get paid on top of it is a bonus," he said.
Although the vendor contract is a significant part of Carey's business, he said customers who enjoyed his games in Dover have purchased items from his Wilmington store.
Area hotels are also expected to see benefits. Hotels in Dover, Milford, Harrington and Smyrna are completely booked for Firefly, said Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce.
Diogo said the CDCC fielded nine calls from one individual looking for hotels closer to the speedway. He eventually settled on a room in Rehoboth Beach, roughly 40 minutes away.
"A lot of people camp," she said. "But because of the heat, people who were planning to camp are now trying to book hotels."
Sometimes, the economic benefit may not be immediately realized. Tatoian said hosting the event may inspire concert-goers to attend a future NASCAR race at the speedway.
"As the NASCAR fan age group gets older, we need to introduce it to a younger audience," he said. "That is what we have at Firefly."
While many hope the festivals will have a positive impact on the region for years to come, Diogo said it has already been good for central Delaware.
"Firefly has put Kent County on the map, and when you get publicity, it's good for area businesses," she said. "Firefly has made Dover a destination."