ATLANTIC CITY - It appears the city is accomplishing something new at Bader Field this weekend.
The Dave Matthews Band Caravan, which on Saturday completed the second of its three days, is happening, and is happening well.
About 30,000 spectators attended Saturday, after about 20,000 attended Friday. An estimated 25,000-30,000 are expected to attend today, Atlantic City Police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said.
There has been no reported traffic and infrastructure mayhem, save for some brief congestion around the Albany Avenue monument mid-afternoon Saturday.
No spectators have been reported injured. The biggest physical complaint has been black sand from the defunct municipal airport's old runways blowing in people's faces.
What most certainly is happening, however, is that thousands of people have come to Atlantic City to have a good time at an event that does not require stepping into a casino. They have come to hear music at an open-air venue that had never been used for that purpose before.
And thousands more are expected today.
The city took a chance on having the Caravan at Bader Field. The festival's overall effect on the local economy is unclear at this point, but many local officials, business operators and residents are pleasantly surprised at how well it is going.
Hotels and casino hotels, which are located away from the venue, are reporting upticks in business.
The Chelsea hotel's front-desk staff attributed its sellout weekend to the Caravan. Resorts Casino Hotel spokeswoman Courtney Birmingham cited the same reason for increased occupancy and crowds at on-site restaurants such as Gallagher's and Cappriccio, and clubs Boogie Nights and Prohibition.
Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort sold out this weekend and saw big turnouts at Caravan kickoff parties earlier in the week, spokesman Brian Cahill said.
"Though this time of year is historically busy, we are seeing strong business volumes," Cahill said Saturday. "We can attribute this in part to the crowds brought in by the Dave Matthews Caravan, many of whom are enjoying the Atlantic City experience for the first time."
Other businesses, such as The Palm restaurant inside The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort, said they saw no increased business from the Caravan. In fact, Palm General Manager Paul A. Sandler said Friday night that volume had fallen "well short" of normal for a Friday night in June.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa executives declined comment.
Some businesses near Bader Field, however, have lost revenue due to partial road closings to accommodate concertgoers walking between the venue and parking areas. Business operators suspect overblown fears of traffic jams have kept customers away from the Chelsea Heights neighborhood surrounding the venue.
The West End Grill on West End Avenue, for instance, saw a small crowd after the concert let out Friday, but was quiet the rest of the night because regulars did not want to deal with road congestion, owner Greg Fenton said. The backyard grill and beer garden and extended hours set up especially for the event failed to attract people, he said.
"So far, we've got nothing. It seems like we're on the wrong end of town," he said.
Greg Vico, who lives a block behind his 24-hour car wash across Albany Avenue from Bader Field, also reported a downturn in business.
"Everyone's avoiding this place like the plague," he said.
To try to minimize his losses, Vico and his wife, Jeannine, ran a parking lot out of their business, where they also sold soda and water. Although city mercantile officers questioned him, he had a vending permit and was allowed to continue undisturbed.
Some of his entrepreneurial neighbors, however, were not so lucky. City officials thwarted their solutions to balance losses or make extra money from the event, they said.
Across Albany Avenue from Bader Field, the Veggie Grille got a rush after the concert let out at about 11 p.m. Friday, manager Larry Jonuzi said.
The recently opened restaurant and wine bar also decided to sell beer and Jell-O shots from a temporary setup in its front parking lot. Renting the beer truck cost $15,000 for the weekend, and despite checking with the city in advance, establishment management was informed mid-afternoon Friday that they needed a special-event permit, which they did not have. They had to shut down the bar, Jonuzi said.
A couple of blocks away, Spanky and Son's Subs received an unexpectedly big boost, which owner Carmen Lowe attributed to referrals from police, security guards and beer vendors working at the concert who were familiar with the 35-year-old sub shop at Trenton and Porter avenues.
"I think it's great," said Lowe, of Galloway Township. "We had a lot more business than we expected, and it was really well-organized. I'm very surprised at how well everything is going."
Muhammad Ilyas said he also experienced better-than-expected results at his Gulf station at Albany and Ventnor avenues. He estimated the station's convenience shop will make $4,000 more than usual during the three-day weekend.
"It's good, but it's kind of mixed. The garage is dead, and gas isn't doing well, either," Ilyas said.
Vendors reported mixed experiences within the venue, too.
Chris Viola, 30, of New York City, traveled to Atlantic City because he thought The Taco Truck, the business he has run successfully for two years, would be appealing to a crowd he thought would be double the size it was. He also thought he would be competing with far fewer vendors. Those beliefs were based on information provided by the subcontractor handling food and beverage details on behalf of event promoter Starr Hill Presents, he said.
Viola was assigned a spot in a lower-traffic area, too.
"It's been a disaster," Viola said. "We could've made more money if we stayed in New York, and it cost us a lot to get here."
Long lines formed Friday and Saturday afternoons outside the food truck for Tony Boloney's pizzeria, which is based in the South Inlet section of Atlantic City.
Owner Mike Hauke said the Caravan is more profitable for him than the Appel Farm Music Festival in Elmer he worked earlier this summer, but he had hoped for better and would like to see more local vendors represented at future events, particularly because restaurants that do not stay open late or have a bar would not benefit as much from post-concert traffic.
"I definitely did good for a festival. I'm different because I have the advantage of having a restaurant nearby with flexible inventory. No one (else) had negative stuff to say, but (they) would've liked to do a little bit better," Hauke said.
No matter what the Caravan means for their profits, people living and working in Chelsea Heights were pleasantly surprised by the event, even if the influx meant some felt trapped at home for fear of losing their parking spot.
"They're the nicest people," Jeannine Vico said. "Very polite, not drunk or rowdy or crazy. And one block back, we couldn't hear anything (from the venue)."
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