- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - As Christen Maroulis was volunteering at the Firefly Festival as part of a local leadership development program, she also was passing out business cards.

She hoped it would help build relationships with others in the business community. It had a quick payoff. A few food vendors thought of her cleaning company when they needed someone to assist after the festival was over.

“I guess after four busy days they were not very up to cleaning,” said Maroulis, director of Merry Maids in Dover.

It was a boost from an unexpected source. Cleaning trailers isn’t a typical job for her crew, but Maroulis was thrilled to have the extra work.

The Dover music festival brought an estimated 80,000 people to the state’s second-largest city, and organizers already are planning Firefly 2015. The state estimates the event brings millions of new spending to the region.

“The thing we love about them is they bring people to us and that in itself is just phenomenal,” said Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce. “It’s so hard to measure that awareness and exposure component.”

The area reaps about $12 million in benefits from the festival, according to 2012 state figures. A University of Delaware researcher is studying the current economic impact. That report is expected later this year, A Delaware Tourism Office spokesman said.

There has been a steady increase in cars exiting at Denneys Road in Dover for Firefly, moving from 287,040 in 2012 to 310,448 in 2013 to 312,530 this year. The music festival is hosted at Dover International Speedway, which also brings big crowds for its NASCAR events. A NASCAR race in June brought 263,752 through the main exit to Dover.

Some in downtown Dover, which is not adjacent to the racetrack and grounds, say they would like to get more of the visitors to check out what they have to offer. The racetrack is near the exit, which is lined with many big-box stores. Going downtown requires visitors to drive a little farther.

Downtown business owners said they have been brainstorming solutions for how to get more traffic.

Dawne Nickerson, owner of Frankfurt Bakery & Deli, on South Governor’s Avenue, said this year she tried to lure people to her shop by offering discounts available by showing a Firefly wristband. She shared the special discount on social media - hoping to attract out-of-town visitors.

But many of those who came in for it were locals, she said. Next year, Nickerson said, she is considering a new strategy. The business has a hot-dog cart it converted into a mobile stand it might park closer to the venue.

Erin Thwaites, owner of Bel Botique in downtown Dover, said Firefly is an event that’s boosted her bottom line by 10 percent to 30 percent - mostly from local shoppers.

Thwaites had festival-goers in mind when she ordered Firefly-styles: headbands, cutoffs and jean shorts, along with peasant-style hats and boots.

“Firefly did a great job of being environmentally and socially conscious, and a lot of people would appreciate the local flavor and unique business we have,” she said.

“They brought in some of the bigger businesses into the festival, which was cool, but it would be interesting if they tried to include more of the independent and unique local businesses we have in the area.”

The feeling around town is that there’s a lot of opportunity, but some of it has been missed, Thwaites said.

Carolyn J. Phinney, president of Signs By Tomorrow on South DuPont Highway in Dover, said she earned new business with the festival by building a relationship with Red Frog Events, the Chicago-based company that puts on Firefly. She did a little work last year, and she kept in touch.

This year, Phinney ended up with a contract to do 1,200 signs for Firefly. It was a hectic couple weeks leading up to the music event, but it was worth it in the end, she said.

“I went out and bought some champagne and popped it. You know, for a small-business owner you work really hard and you try to show people what you can do. To be able to show we can do that … I was just really, really proud of my team.”

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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