Like many seasoned runners, former Charleston Running Club President Dan Clapper has been to his fair share of race expos and has volunteered for the Cooper River Bridge Run’s expo for 15 years.
On Saturday, he was among the consensus that the Bridge Run’s move from the cramped Gaillard Auditorium to the sprawling Charleston Area Convention Center is a major improvement because it’s more spacious and organized.
“It reminds me more of expos at big-time races, like Boston and New York (marathons). (Bridge Run) organizers stepped up to the plate and are batting with the big dogs now.”
Everyone from Bridge Run staff, expo vendors and runners heralded the move, which was originally pitched by race Director Julian Smith in 2010 for the 2011 race but opposed by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
With construction on a revamped Gaillard well under way, though, the Bridge Run went back to the convention center idea and signed a contract for three years.
Many observers, such as Bridge Run Assistant Director Joanna Jackson, said they noticed more people coming to the Thursday expo than in past years and that people started lining up before 11 a.m., an hour before the official opening of Thursday’s expo, to get in.
Officials opened doors to let them in, and the flow of people, even in Thursday’s rain, was steady until mid-afternoon. All expect a bigger crunch today when the expo runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Carolyn Varndell, a vendor from the Mount Pleasant-based The Foot Store, has been at numerous Bridge Run expos and said that people on Thursday seemed like they were in less of a rush to leave.
“I think people felt more claustrophobic (at Gaillard),” said Varndell.
Traffic getting to the convention center wasn’t a subject of conversation as it has been for the last 10 to 12 years when it was held at Gaillard, vendors and organizations noted.
Assistant Race Director Mary Ellen Lenhardt said one person mentioned that traffic on Montague Avenue was bad but that traffic coming from Interstate 526 was not.
Time will tell if holding the expo in North Charleston will, as race organizers predict, relieve the gridlock on streets in downtown Charleston today. After all, there’s a lot going on in Charleston this weekend besides the Bridge Run.