Masters Week, traditionally a time when the economy booms in Aiken, hasn’t been the same here since the novel coronavirus pandemic began.
In 2020, the famous golf tournament was called off in April and then held in November without any spectators.
This year, the Masters has returned to its usual month on the calendar, but only a limited number of patrons are being allowed to attend.
The positive effect on stores, hotels and restaurants in Aiken, as a result, will be limited.
Business at Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe in downtown Aiken on Monday was slower than it would have been during a normal Masters Week, co-owner Cindy Rudisill reported.
“We had people come in that were visiting family because of Easter, but they weren’t here because of the Masters,” she said. “Maybe by the end of the week, we’ll be seeing some more new faces. That would be wonderful.”
The candy store isn’t staying open later than usual during the Masters like it used to prior to the pandemic.
“Things are different now,” Rudisill said.
White Rose Eclectics, a women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories store in downtown Aiken, was busy Monday and several potential customers were there browsing Tuesday morning.
“It was a good day Monday, but we were having a sale, so I don’t know if it had anything to do with the Masters,” said owner Martha Wise.
She wasn’t expecting a big surge in shoppers later in the week because of the tournament.
“With them not allowing a whole lot of spectators (at the Masters), I can’t see where there is going to be a huge crowd downtown (in Aiken),” Wise said.
At Lionel Smith Ltd., a store that offers fine men’s apparel, owner Van Smith was upbeat.
“We’ve probably been half as busy as we were during a normal Masters, but we’re not complaining because it’s a lot better than it was last year (during November’s delayed Masters),” he said. “Starting with the (Easter) weekend, we saw a lot of new faces. They weren’t buying as much, but they were walking out with packages. Saturday was really busy. Friday (April 3) was really busy. Monday was all right.”
Before the pandemic, business tripled at Aiken Brewing Company during Masters Week.
But “it was absolutely horrible” in 2020 when the tournament’s renewal was delayed, said co-owner Rob Pruiett.
This year, he’s optimistic that there will be a significant improvement.
“Regardless of the Masters, we’ve been busy,” Pruiett said. “March was really good. We ordered extra food during our planning for this week, and we’ve got extra staff. But we’re not adding tables or altering our menu.”
Rakesh Jasani, an executive with the Sycamore Investment Group, reported Monday that the Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn in Aiken were sold out and the TownePlace Suites was “pretty close” to being sold out for Masters Week.
“We’ve got a catering group from Augusta National, and we do have some pilots (who flew private airplanes here for the Masters). And we may have some media, too,” Jasani said.
The hundreds of Masters patrons who stayed at the hotels prior to COVID-19 are absent this year, for the most part.
People traveling for business purposes have taken their place in many of the rooms, according to Jasani.
“Corporate travel has picked up in the last few months,” he said.