Business | Local

Few Expect Olympics Windfall South Of The Border

OPB | Feb. 9, 2010 10 p.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:08 a.m. | Blaine, WA

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By Tom Banse

 Torch

Olympic gold medalist Phil Mahre of Yakima carries the Olympic torch under the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington.

The Winter Olympics torch made its only visit to the United States  Tuesday.  The torch relay dipped across the border at the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington. 

Children's choirs sang during a short ceremony. 

Hundreds of people from both sides of the border crowded in for a close hand look.

The 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, Canada on Friday.  U.S. border towns are keeping their expectations in check. 

They don't foresee for an Olympic-sized windfall from the Games. 

Tom Banse has more from Blaine.


Fans of the Olympics from our side of the Canadian border got to show their enthusiasm when the Olympic Torch Relay dipped into the United States, ever so briefly.

Olympic gold medalist Phil Mahre of Yakima carried the flame under the Peace Arch.  Hundreds of onlookers waved American and Canadian flags.

The slalom skier jogged a loop that went no more than 50 yards into Washington State.  That could serve as a metaphor for the limited economic spillover American businesses now expect from the Winter Games. 

Hopes for an avalanche of visitors here have melted like the snow above Vancouver.

Bob Boule: "A lot of the people that had made reservations two and three years ago over a period of time have backed down"

Bob Boule runs the Smuggler's Inn Bed & Breakfast in Blaine.

Bob Boule: "Some of those had planned to be here for two weeks or three weeks. Now we're seeing people that can afford to be here for a day or two days."

Boule says the recession damper is compounded by the limited supply and high prices for Olympic event tickets in the United States.

Bob Boule: "People, their main reason for canceling reservations were very blunt saying, ëwe did everything we could and we couldn't get affordable tickets.'"

Even with diminished bookings, Boule is still grateful for a modest shot in the arm from the Olympics. Otherwise, this would be the slowest season of the year.

On hand for the torch relay, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire says the Olympics could plant the seeds for later visits.

Chris Gregoire: "We know we'll get some bump here.  But we hope this is the promotion of a long term tourism.  That's why the two nation vacation idea emerged. So we hope people will come visit and then come back in better weather for touring."

An unfortunate reality is that none of the Northwest American states can afford a public presence in Vancouver to offer travel details. 

A year and a half ago, Washington, Oregon and Idaho discussed going in together on a joint regional pavilion.  But the idea fell victim to recession-era budget cutbacks.

 Olympics Store
Greg Murphy opened an Olympic souvenir store in Birch Bay Square along Interstate 5.

The most aggressive Northwest entrepreneur trying to capitalize on Olympic travelers might be Greg Murphy.  In December, he opened a temporary Olympic souvenir store along the freeway less than 10 miles south of the Canadian border.  Murphy is adding a BBQ tent this week.

Greg Murphy: "I mean, go big or go home.  This is the Olympics, the world's game.  To be a part of it, you better have your act together because you can get rolled over real fast at this."

Normally, Murphy runs a BBQ stand and catering company in Tacoma.  He's been a devoted fan of the Olympics since attending the Summer Games in Los Angeles way back in 1984. 

Murphy predicts people around here will catch the Olympics bug once the spectacle hits the airwaves this weekend.

Greg Murphy: "It's going to happen.  It's going to happen, yeah.  I threw the dice and they're going to come.  They're going to have no choice.  People are going to say, ëHey, we have got to go up. We're so close, we have to go up, even to go kick some tires.  We still have to go up."

Murphy doesn't understand why so few other Northwest business people have piled on the Olympic bandwagon.  But then he shrugs, sells some more Olympic trading pins, and concludes their loss is his gain.

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