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Running with Picasso

The exhibit of a lifetime brought plenty of diners and foot traffic, but no sneaker sales.

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After an eventful three months, the Picasso exhibit has left the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Now comes the abstract -- those inevitable economic impact claims. The eclectic gathering of painting and sculptures attracted 229,796 people, which is great for the museum tills and in-house restaurant sales.

But how did the exhibit affect area businesses?

Brad Matthews, the manager of Stronghill Dining Company on the Boulevard, saw sales jump 18 percent relative to previous months. “We saw a significant increase in customers during the exhibit, up until the last weekend,” he says. Discussing the prospects of the Museum District, he remains hopeful. “Richmond is an artsy city. Picasso opened up a door for the museum and the area.”

Just a few blocks from the museum, Carytown boasts many popular restaurants, alluring to out-of-towners hungering for more than just art.

Can Can Brasserie manager Andrew Depcrynski says the restaurant benefited from a healthy relationship with museum patrons. “On a normal morning we would have 160 to 180 heads; during the exhibit, that number jumped to 250 to 270.”

Jackie Lee, owner of New York Deli, noticed her business bustle. “Since the Picasso exhibit, we’ve had a lot of customers, sure. I’m hoping it’s because of the expansion going on in the museum, bringing people out so they have something to do.”

Weezie’s Kitchen owner Todd Gelsomino saw profits jump 10 to 15 percent for the duration of Picasso’s stay. “Across the board it was a strong month. Weekends were insane; our brunches went straight through to dinner without any lull.”

What about other businesses? For instance, what impact did Picasso have on running shoe sales?

“We definitely got more traffic,” says Daniel Brass, manager of Roadrunner Running Store, “but I’m not sure that translated into sales.” Museum-goers, Brass surmises, probably weren’t looking for a new pair of kicks.

Secco Wine Bar cut antipasto prices for customers bringing a Picasso ticket stub. “We got a decent amount of people coming in right after visiting the museum,” says bartender Matt Brehony. “But only a couple people took advantage of the discount.”

The gift shop Mongrel also offered a markdown for customers with museum stubs, but manager Garnett Spigle-Greer doesn’t think the promotion translated into profits. “It’s hard to gauge how sales increased with Mother’s Day and Easter happening within the same period.” Still, she says, newcomers seemed generally impressed with Carytown. “Now that they’ve seen [the area] I think they’ll be coming back,” she says.

East of the Museum District and Carytown, the Jefferson Hotel enjoyed a commercial upsurge. “Business grew significantly during the exhibit,” says Rick Butts, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We booked over 800 room nights with the package that we ran. The package was for two people with two tickets, so that’s 1,600 customers we might not have otherwise had.”

Of course, the long-term impact of Picasso won’t be known for some time. Local economist Christine Chmura is studying the economic impact of the Picasso exhibit, but final numbers won’t be ready until sometime in June or early July.

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