The 54th annual Grand American Coon Hunt is anticipated to bring thousands of visitors to Orangeburg as the city's first major event of 2019. The event will be held Jan. 3-5 at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds.
The nationally known and family-friendly event features skilled hounds from across the country and is expected to be a boon for local businesses, something Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President Reyne Moore is excited about.
"Each year we anticipate between 27,000 and 30,000 incoming visitors and an additional 800 dog-owner participants. We also estimate around 100 vendors in attendance," Moore said. "It is one of the premiere night hunt events in the country. Visitors will come from all over the U.S. to enjoy the Grand American."
Attendees can shop a variety of vendors and catch up with old friends as well as make new ones at the annual event.
Moore said the visitors will also be eating at area restaurants.
"If you estimate that each visitor eats a minimum of two meals in Orangeburg during their stay at around $10 per meal, that math indicates the event would bring in over half a million dollars in just visitor meals alone," she said.
Applebee's general manager Jessica Ryant said the coon hunt definitely brings an increase in sales.
"We try to figure out when that weekend is and prepare for that. We usually staff up because we usually see an increase that weekend, especially in daytime sales. We usually see maybe like a 30 percent increase in daytime sales, and then at night it's around the same, maybe a little less at 25 percent," Ryant said.
She added, "They come in in big groups. We actually look for them, and they're really good guests. We usually look forward to the coon hunters coming in town. It's an exciting weekend for us and business probably just as much as it is for them as far as the hunting."
FATZ service manager Nathaniel Simmons said, "I know in the past, we definitely have seen tremendous impact with that because when they come in, they stay in a lot of the hotels that are out this way and they frequent us pretty much every day that they're here.
"So we'll probably get a good impact for lunch and definitely a strong impact at night."
Ruby Tuesday general manager Tony DeAloia said the restaurant is in a prime location near the interstate and surrounding hotels.
"We actually will start seeing people come in on Tuesday because some of the vendors start coming in and setting up before the coon hunt actually starts. So we kind of see a little bit of everybody," DeAloia said.
"And I know in the past we used to just see a lot of the hunters at night time before they would go out and do things, but now we see them throughout the day," he added. "So you never know when somebody's gonna come in. We just happen to be fortunate that we're in the midst of all the hotels out there, and that's where 90 percent of them are staying."
DeAloia said there is "definitely an upswing" in business when the coon hunters come to the city.
"As a matter of fact, I have to adjust everything -- my labor and all that stuff -- to accommodate. The week between Christmas and New Year's is busy anyway ... but then we got the coon hunters coming in at the end of that," he said.
"So not only are we gonna see all that next weekend, but it'll be the last week of travel for people coming back from vacation and the holidays and all that kind of stuff. Believe me, that weekend is going to be busy. I think it's wonderful ... and it's great for Orangeburg County."
Moore said, "In addition to that income, we also see Grand American and UKC (United Kennel Club) hotel room and camping rentals, fuel-ups at Orangeburg County gas stations and an immeasurable impact on local retail establishments. In fact, many visitors bring their whole families to enjoy the event and experience what Orangeburg has to offer before, during and after the programs."
Orangeburg resident Harry Ott, a member of the Grand American Board of Directors, said, "This is one of the largest coon hunts in the United States, and this is our 54th year in Orangeburg. It is a big boom for the economy of Orangeburg: hotels, motels and restaurants."
"The two biggest things in Orangeburg are the Grand American and South Carolina State University's homecoming because of the tax money it brings into Orangeburg and surrounding counties," Ott noted.
He said he's hoping for better weather this year and not the sleet and ice that marked the events of the past two years.
"We've had two bad years, and the crowds have been down the last two years. It's really hurt the Grand American. It looks like we might get some rain next week but if we don't get the snow and ice, we'll be OK," Ott said.
Moore said, "We are excited about the weather being warmer than in past years although rain is still in the forecast."
"Orangeburg is an outdoorsman's dream, and we would love to see more events like this which highlight our local environment, wonderful organizations like the UKC and American Cooner magazine, all while bringing significant economic impact to our collective backyard," she said.
Ott said the event will bring families together and will include vendors with something for everybody, including ladies.
"We'd like for everybody to come out. You can get almost anything you want at the Grand American. We have vendors on the inside and outside. It's a family tradition, and ladies can find something, too," he said. "We have a lot of ladies coming out, and (there's) a lot of stuff they can buy."
Moore said, "The National Anthem will kick off Friday and Saturday events. Friday’s singer is Erica Hair, and Saturday we will feature a duet of Dee Dee Prickett and Jack Bryant."
She said the annual coon hunt and show is a welcome attraction in the city of Orangeburg.
"The Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce is honored to support the success of this event and it's economic impact in our county," Moore said. "We anticipate a safe, warm and successful event."