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For just about as long as there have been wars, there have been war profiteers. This month, Baltimore’s merchants, hoteliers, restaurateurs and other retailers hope to cash in on a war — albeit one fought two centuries ago.
Festivities marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812 were kicked off this week by the Star-Spangled Sailabration, an international parade of more than 40 tall ships and naval vessels that runs through Tuesday. The overall bicentennial celebration runs 32 months.
Restaurants such as the B&O Brasserie, part of Hotel Monaco Baltimore, hope to lure visitors with dinner specials for $18.12 and 20 percent discounts for military personnel through Tuesday.
“This is just the beginning. It starts celebrations that are going to happen over the next three years,” said John Tiffey, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
The hotel had nearly sold out its 202 rooms as of Wednesday.
“Where we’re located, you have a great view of the harbor. You can see the ships coming in,” said Larry Knight, a bartender at Watertable Restaurant, part of the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. “We’re excited about the crowd.”
Watertable also is offering theme dinner specials and offered a happy hour for the sailors Thursday. The restaurant sits 145 in the main section and 120 in the bar.
Event organizers say they hope to exceed the $100 million economic impact the state experienced during its last national maritime festival, Operation Sail 2000, which also brought the tall sailing ships. Twelve nations are lending their vessels to this year’s event.
“We know anecdotally that our restaurants in the city have been booked for two months. Retailers like Harborplace are excited, leased and ready for business,” said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.
“We’re definitely looking forward to all the traffic essentially at our doorstep,” said Jackie Kavege, director of marketing for Harborplace and the Gallery, which together house more than 100 retailers.
Kavege also hopes Harborplace’s patriotic-themed sand sculptures, part of its City Sand event, draw more shoppers. Twenty-five tons of sand went into the sculptures.
Pencek’s commission manages the Star-Spangled 200 campaign, which is funded largely through donations to its nonprofit corporation and the sale of commemorative coins. Corporate sponsors have donated more than $5 million to Star-Spangled 200, which looks to reach $8.5 million to match the potential sales of the coins, Pencek said.
Star-Spangled 200 also supports a website to connect 62 Maryland hoteliers with visitors.
"We're proud to lend our support to a celebration of such a meaningful moment in our nation's history,” said Bill Benintende, spokesman for T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, one of the companies contributing to Star-Spangled 200, in an email.
‘New dollars’Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said several of his members have been “gearing up” for the weekend.
“Our members are excited about any tourism in the region. Everyone in the surrounding area benefits during these events because they bring new dollars into the region,” Donoho said.
Even out-of-state retailers such as Papa John’s of Kentucky, which has 44 pizzerias in the Baltimore region, are running promotions associated with the bicentennial celebration. Papa John’s is offering a 10 percent discount and giving 10 percent of the proceeds to Star-Spangled 200 to customers using the promotional code 1812, said operations Vice President Bob Billman.
Other local hotels, such as Days Inn in Baltimore, said it was hard to tell whether their increased bookings were due to the Sailabration or the other events happening in Baltimore this weekend, said front office manager Preshess Bynum. This weekend, the city also hosts Baltimore Orioles games and Baltimore Pride, a gay pride event.
“We’re not letting anyone take time off,” joked Mark Underwood, general manager of Kona Grill, which seats 250. “We think it should be very good.”
Pencek pointed out that Operation Sail 1976 was a major catalyst in the rejuvenation of the Inner Harbor.
“We’re continuing to polish the brand of Maryland, Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “We’re guardedly optimistic. We’ve got an incredibly beautiful weather forecast.”
The commission has contracted with Forward Analytics to evaluate the event’s economic impact by interviewing visitors throughout the Sailabration, Pencek said.
Frederick also is offering War of 1812-themed exhibitions at the Frederick Gallery, including “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights: The War of 1812 and the Shaping of America.” This exhibition is a private collection, of which some pieces will be for sale.