Columbus Businesses Will Feel The Pinch Of Scaled-Back Arnold Sports Festival

Mar 4, 2020

Businesses in downtown Columbus and the Short North suddenly have a lot of sales to make up, with the cancellation of the Arnold Fitness Expo and the banning of most spectators from the affiliated Arnold Sports Festival.

“It’s going to have an impact. To what degree, we’re not aware of yet,” says Brian Ross, CEO of Experience Columbus, which focuses on attracting visitors to the city.

State and city leaders announced Tuesday that most of the Arnold events, including the massive trade show, were canceled because of concerns about the global spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Ross says the 200,000 people that come to Central Ohio for the Arnold contribute more than $50 million to the local economy. That includes the filling of about 18,000 hotel rooms.

Most of the registered athletes are still scheduled to compete beginning Thursday, but thousands of people who flock to the Greater Columbus Convention Center for the fitness expo will now need to find new plans.

People can still attend the bodybuilding competition’s finals on Saturday.

Ross says they’re trying to get creative by partnering with venues like the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and COSI to offer discounts to people who planned to attend the expo.

The cancellation is also a huge blow to supplement dealers, workout clothing companies and other vendors who use the expo as a showcase to reach their customer base.

Nearby bars and restaurants also bank on the influx of people to fill seats and cash registers. Megan Campbell, assistant general manager at the Local Cantina Mexican restaurant a few blocks from the convention center, says the cancellation will hurt sales.

“A lot of business is in this area because of it,” Campbell says. “They want to grab a quick bite to eat or a quick drink, and we’re right here so we’re the easy option for them. We will be missing out on a lot of people if they are not as active in the area.”

The Arnold Fitness Expo is thought to be the country's largest mass gathering to be canceled because of emerging concerns about the novel coronavirus.

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed yet in Ohio. So far seven patients have tested negative, with another Ohioan currently under investigation. However, Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton cautioned that the disease will likely spread to Ohio eventually.

Nine deaths from COVID-19 have been reported so far, all of which came from Washington state.