Posted at: 07/19/2012 5:57 PM
| Updated at: 07/19/2012 8:21 PM
By: Mark Mulholland
Exercise riders ride horses during morning workouts at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Thursday, July 19, 2012. The 144th Saratoga horse racing season starts on Friday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
SARATOGA SPRINGS - It's time for big hats and big crowds.
With the track season upon us, the summer place to be is also the place to shop for people like the Stout family who came here from Illinois for some horse racing and some browsing.
"We love to walk up and down the streets and check out all the shops. Good shopping here," said Jeanine Stout.
And they'll enjoy some good eating.
This is the time of year businesses can sink their teeth into.
"We are looking very, very forward to having a really good August," said Marianne Barker, owner of Impressions of Saratoga. "The early part of the year was up every month which is great after a four year lull."
The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau says 2012 has been up dramatically over last year---16 percent.
Hotel operators say the increased demand has allowed them to raise prices for the first time in four years.
"Our booking pace for racing season was brisk and it continues to be brisk. There was no lows," said Cindy Hollowood, operator of the Holiday Inn Saratoga.
Owners of restaurants say business typically increases about 15 percent during racing season. They view it as an opportunity to earn a loyal customer.
"It's amazing to watch the people who say they came to racing once and then we loved the town so much they come back over and over and over," John LaPosta, owner of Maestro's.
Business leaders say visitors seem unfazed by the controversy surrounding NYRA and the sudden dismissal of its C.E.O. amid scandal.
"The average person that's coming to the race course is coming for a great time and they don't care as long as the food is served, the drinks are available and the racing's good," said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce