SPRING HILL — For the past 21/2 months, bowlers from across the state have flocked to Hernando County for the Florida State Bowling Association Championships.
When the tournament ends this weekend, many local business owners will be sorry to see the bowlers leave.
Business has spiked during a typically slow time of year, especially for hotels and restaurants near Mariner Lanes and Spring Hill Lanes, the host alleys.
The nearly 5,000 registrants were forecast by organizers and the Hernando County Tourism Bureau to pour up to $6 million into local motels, restaurants and retailers.
John Leverock, president of the sponsoring Hernando County Bowling Association, has no doubt that forecast has been met.
"I think it will be greater than that," Leverock said last week.
In many cases, businesses have experienced pleasant boosts; at others, especially those in and around Brooksville, there has been little or no impact, owners and managers say.
At the host motel, the Holiday Inn Express on Commercial Way, manager Jay Panjabi said occupancy overall has jumped to 50 percent this time of year from 20 percent.
He reported some weekends during the tournament when the hotel was "full, 100 percent."
"We would like to thank the people who put this together," Panjabi said. "Hernando County needed this kind of event. Hopefully, it will bring more."
Rooms have also been sold out several weekends at the Quality Inn across from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Visitors have come from as far as Jacksonville, Gainesville and Orlando, said Nella Oliver, a co-owner of the restaurant there.
Nearby, Frank Medina, front desk manager at the Hampton Inn on Commercial Way, was equally enthusiastic.
"It's brought a whole lot of business over the weekends, that's for sure," said Medina. "It's unusual for this time of year. The occupancy rate is approximately 95 percent over the weekends (of the tournament). Normal occupancy rate is about 30 percent this time of year."
It appears the bowlers preferred motel rooms close to the bowling alleys. A couple of Brooksville motels reported little impact on bookings.
As for restaurants, Scotto's Bistro at the Quality Inn picked up a good bit of business, Oliver reported: "They're here spending."
Boston Cooker owner Clay McDuff on Spring Hill Drive also voiced a positive response.
"Yes, (the tournament) has affected us. We've had larger parties, two tables of 14," McDuff said.
Boston Cooker responded to the tourism bureau's request for discount coupons.
Said McDuff: "We are actually telling (diners) to keep the coupon and keep using it. We get them coming in here and get them to keep coming back. Once word gets out, that's good for us."
Hooters, next to Spring Hill Lanes, has experienced a midafternoon jump in the number of diners.
"I believe on Saturdays (the bowlers) take a break between 1 and 3 (p.m.), and at that time we get a lot of business," said general manager Tony Randolph. "It's a slower time of year … and it has helped."
Frances Kirkpatrick, owner of the Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q on Commercial Way, was grateful for the extra business the bowlers brought his restaurant.
"We appreciate them coming in, and I think it has had an impact," Kirkpatrick said.
But at restaurants farther away from the action — Waffle House, Huddle House, Beef 'O' Brady's and Nouvelle Cuisine among them — managers said they have seen few bowlers.
The bowling alleys themselves have definitely been beneficiaries.
At Mariner Lanes, "We've had mostly full houses," said Blanche Kubas, the control counter manager.
Kubas said the tournament has had little effect on local weekend bowlers because league play is suspended on summer weekends. Some Sunday bowlers have been turned away, but the tournament "more than compensates for it, I'd say," she added.
The tournament bowlers are "all pleased with the lanes, the way they're set up," Kubas said.
The Mariner Lanes Spare Time Lounge has enjoyed "excellent" weekend demand for food and drink, Kubas said. "They've been bombarded in there, both lunches and dinners."
Carlos Martins, who manages Spring Hill Lanes with his brother, George Martins, was also pleased with the impact the tournament has had on business.
"We're happy to have the tournament, especially that we're a smaller bowling region. I think the economic impact is larger than in a metropolitan area," Martins said. "It's definitely a positive for us because of the local economy, and summer, when business is down."
He said with the bad economy, "I don't think (the bowlers) are spending as much as they have in the past."
The Bowlers' Circle Restaurant and Flamingo Lounge at Spring Hill Lanes have reported a "pretty good" business, but "business in the bar is not as busy as I thought it would be," Martins said. "Business in the lounge definitely increased because of the sheer volume of people. We put on added staff on weekends: waitresses, mechanical people, for extra wages.
"We would like to have the tournament here every year if we could."
Rod Ditt, manager of the Hernando County Bowling Association, said the local group beat out Tampa Bay and other associations to host the state tournament. Previously, the local group has hosted a state seniors tournament and mixed couples and singles tournaments, but never the big one.
After this year's experience, they'd like to host the big one again.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.