‘Les Mis’ crowds a good problem for business
Few empty seats for weeklong production at Proctors
SCHENECTADY Peter Blackman had a problem most restaurateurs wish they had.
The $35,000 motorcycle he has had inside his Schenectady restaurant needed to go. It’s been on display since March at various Mazzone restaurants around the Capital Region as part of an upcoming fundraiser, but last week was a bad week for it to sit proudly atop four tables at Aperitivo Bistro.
“I couldn’t do it,” said Blackman, who shipped it off to the next Mazzone restaurant. “We needed those four tables. We needed all the tables we could get.”
That’s because “Les Miserables” breezed through town this week, bringing a whirlwind of economic activity to downtown Schenectady. Aperitivo, which sits one marquee down from Proctors, was packed each night by 6 p.m. to accommodate hungry “Les Mis” fans before an 8 p.m. show.
“The shows are fantastic for us,” Blackman said Friday, “but with this show especially, I’ve been virtually booked solid for about 10 days now. Our biggest challenge is when we get visitors who haven’t planned ahead. If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve said ‘We do serve the full menu at the bar.’ ”
The 25th anniversary production of “Les Miserables” first hit the Proctors main stage Tuesday and wraps up its weeklong run with a 2 p.m. matinee today. Proctors CEO Philip Morris said nearly every seat in the theater was taken for the first four shows, which included three evening performances and a matinee.
“If there’s been an empty seat, there’s only been one or two,” he said. “It could be partially because of the movie or partially because it’s a rebuild of something people adore, or it could be partially because this may be the last tour and people want to be able to see it. But I heard someone describe it as being a room full of adoring fans, and I thought, you know, that’s probably quite accurate.”
For every dollar in ticket revenue a Proctors show generates, Morris said, the community collects an additional three. Out-of-town visitors don’t usually come in just for a show and then leave, he said. Usually, they’ll grab dinner, take a stroll downtown to check out the shops and then see the show.
Some establishments thrive with the Proctors bump; others apparently survive because of it.
“Without them, we wouldn’t survive,” said Casey Blum, co-owner of the Backstage Pub & Grill.
When a show is in town, Blum’s business goes up by 300 percent. He accepts advanced bookings early, and occasionally throws cast and crew parties after a night’s show. This week, he hosted a free buffet for the “Les Mis” cast and crew both Tuesday and Saturday nights.
The matinees have less of a benefit on the Backstage Pub, which sits less than a block from Proctors, on Smith Street. Since daytime shows tend to draw families and schoolchildren on field trips, establishments with full bars are passed over for more family-friendly joints.
But even a smaller Proctors bump has an effect, so Blum will open at noon for the matinee crowds and on Sundays, when a show is booked that day.
In addition to extended hours, Aperitivo doubles up on staff on show days.
“We’ve had a lot of people coming up from New York City to see the show,” said Blackman. “Some stay a night and book a reservation ahead of time. It’s really spectacular for Schenectady to have something as good as that.”
The new Johnny’s restaurant that recently opened up across from Proctors has sold out every night this week. Owner Bobby Mallozzi said it’s hard to tell if it’s because “Les Mis” is in town, since it was already filling up every night since its grand opening last month.
“The difference is, though, that with a Proctors show, your clients and customer base is going to come in much earlier,” he said. “So we might see a 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock full house, as opposed to a 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock full house.”
Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said he was a bit worried about parking Thursday, as the city’s nine lots and parking garage filled up fast for both a matinee and 8 p.m. show. About 50 Proctors staff ended up parking in the MVP garage farther up State Street to make room for more fans to park downtown, he said.
“It was a really busy, busy day for downtown,” he said.