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Shepherdstown businesses applaud annual theater festival

July 26, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • A banner advertising the Contemporary American Theater Festival hangs in downtown Shepherdstown, W.Va.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Jim Ford, owner of the Thomas Shepherd Inn, said the Contemporary American Theater Festival makes July "everybody's biggest month. It's hard not to be."

The five-play, monthlong festival at Shepherd University creates a summer boomtown for owners of local hotels, restaurants and downtown shops. The festival concludes Sunday.

"We hardly ever leave the house in July," said Smith, who owns the inn with his wife, Jeanne Muir. "We're booked a year in advance for Wednesday through Saturday."

"The Thomas Shepherd Inn, Bavarian and the Clarion are all booked for July," said Peggy McKowen, the theater festival's associate producer/director said of the town's three main lodging facilities.

"This is a record box office year," said James McNeel, director of development, marketing and finance. Ticket sales account for about $430,000 this year, 35 percent higher than 2010, he said.

More than 6,000 patrons bought more than 12,000 tickets, either to see a single play or multiple productions through subscriptions.

It costs about $1.1 million to put on the festival every year. Half comes from ticket sales, the rest from donations, said McKowen, one of the festival's three full-time employees.

The staff increases to about 90 temporary employees — including 14 professional equity actors, playwrights, stage and costume designers, directors and technicians, McKowen said.

The big money, though, is in the $2 million that patrons spend in and around Shepherdstown on lodging, meals and shopping, McNeel said. Some of it spills over into bed-and-breakfast inns in nearby Sharpsburg.

"They're all booked, too," Smith said.

July is the busiest month at the Shepherdstown Visitors Center. Three times as many people walk in, Executive Director Cheryl Keyrouze said. So far this month, more than 1,270 have come in seeking information, according to center records.

"The theater festival has a tremendously positive effect on our business," said Meredith Wait, who along with Debbie Dickinson own Dickinson & Wait Craft Gallery at 123 E. German St.

"We pay attention when we order for July," Wait said. "Contemporary theater and contemporary crafts go together."

"The short answer is that there is a noticeable increase in business in July especially on weekends," said Michael Raubertas, who with his wife, Ruth Raubertas, owns Four seasons Books at 116 W. German St.

Like Wait, Michael Raubertas said business at the store in July is now second only to the Christmas season.

"July used to be slow, but not anymore," he said.

Bistro 112 at 112 W. German St., formerly the Stone Soup restaurant, also sees a big increase in business in July, owner Deborah Tucker said.

"There's a huge amount of activity in July," Tucker said. "We have to prepare for it. We add more wait staff and buy more linen."

The restaurant offers fewer specials in July because of the "time sensitivity of theater-goers who have to get in and out (to get to plays on time)" she said.

A popular July entree is the bistro meal, a fixed-price, three-course dinner, she said.

Ashley Hoffman works the counter at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery at 100 W. German St.

"The theater festival brings in a lot of people from the Washington metropolitan area, especially on weekends," she said. "Some come in to have a sandwich between plays. They also seem to like cupcakes and doughnuts. Sometimes they pick up a cookie to bring back to their hotel."

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