Is Oprah Winfrey the one-woman-stimulus-plan? Tuesday's star-studded taping of this season's kickoff to The Oprah Winfrey Show drew roughly 20,000 people to the Magnificent Mile, a densely commercial stretch of Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Many of the businesses along the stretch took advantage of the opportunity by handing out flyers, giving away samples as well as other marketing tactics to lure customers from the mass of Oprah fans. Experts and retailers alike believe that the event provided a much needed sales boost to the area's local businesses.
"Folks took advantage of their trip to Michigan Avenue to see Oprah to do some shopping, so [Tuesday] was most likely a pretty good day for retailers," says Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak a Chicago-based retail research firm. When compared to last year, sales in the area for the Tuesday after Labor Day decreased 6.5 percent, however the four previous Tuesdays in August were down 16.6 percent compared to last year, meaning Oprah's visit brought a 10 percent gain in traffic.
"The mall certainly was busy; we considered it a really positive happening for not only the Shops at Northbridge [mall] but Michigan Avenue in general," says Erica Strama, marketing manager of Macerich, a Santa Monica-based real estate investment trust focused on malls and shopping centers. Macerich owns the Shops at Northbridge and other stores within the radius of the taping. Strama notes that the food court saw a particular spike in business, although sales data on the entire mall and the several other stores owned by the company have yet to be compiled.
The taping of the show, which will air September 10, inspired some businesses to find creative ways to snag foot traffic. A Cajun restaurant called Heaven on Seven had an employee dressed as a crawfish to advertise its storefront while workers outside of Cosi sold $1 slices of cheesecake. Other businesses made no special efforts and were none the worse for wear.
"Considering that it was already Labor Day, which is one of the busiest weekends of the summer, we were pretty much on par with where we were in past years," says Amy Hartnett, marketing manager for Shoreline Sightseeing, which offers water taxi and boat tours.
The store did have employees poised to hand out brochures to passersby but they didn't want to make their presence overbearing by ramping up publicity efforts.
Hartnett says, "We just made an effort to make people aware of it rather than to wrangle people away from the show to take our water taxis."