NBTF expected to have major economic impact

Photos by Todd Luck– Purity Ruchugo helps Ava Edwards-Idehen try on a dress at Umoja African Crafts Store.

NBTF expected to have major economic impact
August 03
05:01 2017

The biennial National Black Theatre Festival is back and its impact on Winton-Salem is bigger than ever.

The impact is expected to be larger than in 2015, when the weeklong festival of plays was estimated to have had a $7.5 million to $11 million impact on the local economy. About 50,000 people are expected to visit the city this week and fill more than 3,000 hotel rooms.

Nigel Alston, executive director of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, which holds the festival, said most of the rooms are booked before the festivals line-up of shows and celebrities  is even announced.  He said the sheer volume of quality shows and the hospitality of more than 1,000 volunteers creates an experience that keeps people coming back every two years.

“It’s always exciting: the diversity of it, the types of shows, professional theater,” said Alston.

“It’s just an exciting time in terms of black theater here.”

Mayor Allen Joines said Winston-Salem is always excited to host the festival and welcome its visitors.

“It’s a real treasure for our community that offers our own citizens the opportunity to experience theater. It brings a lot of visitors to our city who spend a lot of money and then it also brings national attention to Winston-Salem from all around the world,” said Joines.

Visit Winston-Salem President Richard Geiger said that it’s the city’s largest event based on the number of people it brings in. He said those visitors will have many new restaurants and amenities to enjoy as the city has grown.

“What’s great is that they come every two years and there’s always something new and exciting for them to visit and see while they’re here,” said Geiger.

Visitors have been greeted by many new attractions downtown. The Benton Convention Center is newly renovated. Liberty Street now hosts new eateries like Camel City BBQ Factory and Crafted: The Art of the Taco along with a new gallery and headquarters for Arts For Arts Sake that stands alongside its ARTivity on the Green park. Kimpton Cardinal Hotel on Main Street now offers rooms and restaurants.

Old favorites of theater goers still remain, like cultural gift shop Body and Soul on Trade Street. Down the street, the popular restaurant Sweet Potatoes has moved to a new, larger location with outdoor seating and a new Miss Ora’s Kitchen, which serves panfried chicken, next door.

Downtown businesses have expanded hours and additional staff to help with the increased customers they see during the festival. Purity Ruchugo, founder of Umoja African Crafts Store on Trade Street, described it as “overtime plus.” She said the amount of customers during the festival continues to increase.

“When they leave Winston, they go back with a feeling that it’s a place they want to come again so they end up bringing other people with them,” said Ruchugo.

She said that it’s the single busiest week for her store, even busier than Christmas. She’s always grateful for the customers who buy the store’s crafts made by women from her native Kenya with sales going to benefit Sister2Sister International Outreach Ministry, which provides services for women and children in Kenya.

Aside from the influx of customers, another perk for local businesses is the celebrities who will stop in. The remodeled Meta’s Restaurant on West Third Street has a wall of celebrity pictures  from famous visitors who’ve come there including Yolanda King, Hal Williams and Tonea Stewart. Meta’s owner Almeta Poole said she thinks it’s the down-to-earth, homely atmosphere and “true Southern cuisine” that keeps attracting celebrities, theater troops and visitors to Meta’s. She said she always looks forward to the festival.

“It’s a lot of excitement because you never know who you might see on any given day,” said Poole.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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