Cars line the streets around Hayward Field on June 15, 2021. It is a bright, sunny morning, and athletes are preparing for their races by running laps around the outside of the stadium.
In the summer of 2021, the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials brought thousands of people, both athletes and spectators, into the small city of Eugene. And this summer, Eugene will be hosting an even larger event: the World Athletics Championships.
The trials last summer took place over the course of 10 days, as will the championships this summer. This July, Hayward will host athletes representing more than 200 nations, according to World Athletics.
Hayward seats 12,650, but last summer only 9,000 fans were allowed inside, following COVID-19 safety protocols, according to Hayward Field. This summer there are expected to be more than 54,000 spectators, according to the city of Eugene. That’s over six times more than last summer.
With a population of only 176,654, Eugene had to make adjustments to accommodate the influx of spectators from the trials, according to the United States Census Bureau. After a long day of track events, with one-way ticket admission inside, spectators flooded out of Hayward and searched for places to eat dinner or have a sweet treat.
Many went to the restaurants nearest Hayward on East 19th Avenue, only two blocks away. For some of those restaurants, this influx in customers had a significant impact on their businesses.
A day of trials could end anywhere from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. But no matter the time it ended, it gave the restaurants on East 19th Avenue a large rush of customers.
“Everybody left at the same time at the end of the night. So all the businesses around here — there’s not a lot of restaurants — but they all got slammed for 30 or 45 minutes directly when the trials ended,” says owner of Hey Neighbor Pizza Calen Willis.
He says the influx of customers put a strain on Hey Neighbor workers. “Locally, people know, it’s a Friday night, it might take an hour for a pizza,” Willis says. But people from out of town expect their pizza to be ready in 10 minutes, which is not realistic for the amount of customers Hey Neighbor has, Willis says.
This interaction with customers was common during the trials, Willis says. Because of the number of people all wanting food at the same time, it put pressure on the restaurants on East 19th Avenue, Willis says. He says this affected the quality of the food his staff could produce during the trials.
“It’s nice to have extra people in town and kind of show them what you can do, but, for us, it’s not the best representation of what we can do,” Willis says.
On one particularly busy night, Willis says a woman sat on the lawn of the house next to Hey Neighbor to eat her pizza because all the tables were full. And the Hey Neighbor staff had to tell her she couldn’t eat there. This incident, and incidents like this, made Willis and his staff feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Agate Alley Bistro, just six businesses down the street from Hey Neighbor Pizza, experienced the same issue during the trials.
Tony Schmidt, general manager of Agate Alley Bistro, says 2021 was the busiest year the Bistro has ever had, and they opened 13 years ago in 2008. “Lots of restaurants were not prepared because we were all understaffed. So it probably felt busier than it was,” Schmidt says.
And restaurants were understaffed. According to the National Restaurant Association, there were 12.5 million restaurant industry employees at the end of 2020, down 3.1 million from expected levels. Over 110,000 restaurant locations are temporarily or permanently closed.
In December 2020, there was a 6.3% unemployment rate and 11,221 unemployed people in Lane County, according to the State of Oregon Employment Department. Due to the shortage of workers, the workers the bistro did have were exhausted from having to work so much, Schmidt says. “They were tired; working long days, more than five days a week for some of them. Definitely more than eight to 10 hours — sometimes 12 hours,” Schmidt says.
On the opposite end, Prince Puckler’s Gourmet Ice Cream did not experience the same burnout that Hey Neighbor or Agate Alley Bistro felt. Lance Schendel, owner of Prince Puckler’s, says it did have more business from the trials, but it had a sufficient number of employees, which helped to create a stress-free environment.
The influx in business during the trials was positive, however it did not give them the majority of their revenue, Schendel says. Prince Pucklers is always busy in the summer.
Willis says Hey Neighbor has also gotten business from track and field high school national championships hosted at Hayward, as well as the NCAA track championships. This flow of business was better and less stressful than business brought in from the trials because it was a smaller crowd and not all at the same time, Willis says.
There are not many restaurants near Hayward for trial spectators to go to, Willis says. Not only on East 19th Avenue, but restaurants all around campus have closed down due to the pandemic or other reasons, Schmidt says. If there were more businesses in somewhat close proximity to Hayward, Schmidt says it would probably alleviate stress on the restaurants on East 19th Avenue.
However, even with the stress on restaurants brought from business from the trials, there are also benefits to the restaurants. Schmidt says Agate Alley Bistro is not concerned about having enough business.
“It doesn’t hurt having Agate Alley ‘AA’ as our initials, and the first thing in a search typically for ‘food near me,’” Schmidt says.
Now, these businesses are thinking ahead to the 2022 World Athletics Championships. But after last summer, they will be prepared. Schmidt says he plans to have more staff at his restaurant. And Willis is still thinking about what he will do.
“We’ll probably have a better game plan next time for the World Championships,” Willis says.