RAGBRAI brings people to Iowa from across the country. The bicyclists and their supporters not only ride across the state, they spend money across the state.
Businesses along the route have one shot to get these traveling customers in their doors, except for Fort Madison, which gets a bonus shot at the massive crowd.
The city’s business community is doing what it can to make sure it capitalizes on the additional opportunity.
Hundreds of participants came to Fort Madison on Friday, July 19 to drop off their vehicles in anticipation of returning on Saturday, July 27.
Angie Budnik, RAGBRAI Planning Committee Co-Chair, said more than 700 vehicles from 39 states are currently parked in four long-term lots throughout the city.
Many of the riders and their supporters spent that Friday night in Fort Madison, of which the planning committee took full advantage.
“It was definitely a conscious effort to make sure we showcased what Fort Madison had to offer,” said Budnik.
Shuttle buses ran between the parking lots and local businesses throughout the night.
“Whether they needed to go to the grocery store… one of our businesses on the river or one of the local bars with music on Friday night, (we took them),” said Budnik.
A beneficiary of the service was the Ivy Bake Shoppe, which is a staple of downtown Fort Madison.
Owner Sue Saunders says her business stayed open later, serving a special dinner for all of the visitors roaming around the district.
“It was just awesome,” said Saunders. “There were just so many people. You love getting their stories: Is this their first (RAGBRAI)? How many have they done? So it was a great, great evening.”
She hopes to continue that success for the last day of the bicycle ride.
Angie Budnik says the idea of guiding riders downtown will be at work again on the 27th.
The in-city route takes them directly through downtown Fort Madison on their way to the finish line in Riverview Park.
Sam Fiorella is excited about that idea because the last time RAGBRAI ended in the pen city, her business, Pendemonium, experienced its single biggest retail sales day in its history in Fort Madison.
Pendemonium and the Shaeffer Pen Museum, of which Fiorella is a member of the Board of Directors, are both located along the RAGBRAI route.
Anyone stopping at the museum can sign a commemorative banner, which already has signatures from across the county and the Pacific Ocean island of Guam.
“When we are all done, we will put it up in the window so that all the locals can see all the different people,” said Fiorella. “It sort of sinks in how many people there really are when you start seeing the signatures.”
The 405-mile trek across Iowa will wrap up in Fort Madison’s Riverview Park.
Sue Saunders had a great description of RAGBRAI, calling it a “city traveling across the state.”
The city has its own economy, which has local business owners ready.
They want to make sure that the success of Friday, July 19 carries over to Saturday, July 27, so that after the riders dip their front tires into the Mississippi River to mark the end of the race, they dip into their wallets.