For local business in Aiken, what is The Masters supposed to mean?
“Masters is supposed to be huge, huge,” says Debra Pinero, who owns Café Rio Blanco with her husband Orlando. They've been serving up authentic Cuban cuisine for 6 Masters so far.
“We would normally be overwhelmed, nonstop action, people coming in, all the tables full inside and out,” she says.
She says this year's was notable in that it was the most disappointing. The proof is in the plantains and the peppers. “I still have a lot of stuff in my fridge,” she says.
The slowdown spread across Aiken from grub to gifts to guns.
“We were never swamped,” says Chuck Scott, owner of The Gun Rack. “We had a lot of open parking spaces all day.”
The Gun Rack cannot sell handguns to those out of state visitors, and can only sell long guns to residents of select states. The other thing people wanted he didn't have a lot of.
“Folks from other parts of the us are looking for ammo,” he says, ” they're out and home and thinking we're not, but really it's nationwide.”
Scott says he typically loves the conversation and interesting people; this year, not so much.
“We didn't have that many people in to have a most interesting this year,” he says. “I mean it was really slow.”
Sallye Rich, owner of 3 Monkeys says, she's learned not to count on Masters for the money and has a few words of wisdom for other business owners.
“Don't bank on it,” she says. “If you have a big increase, great, and be happy. Enjoy it, and enjoy showing off the business and the town.”
For her regulars, she has two words: Thank you.
“We couldn't make it without the tried and true crowd who need a gift and know us and always come to us,” she says. “That's our backbone. That's what keep us going.”
And Debra has one big question: Why.
“Is it Augusta has more attractions and has found ways to keep people in Augusta,” she says. “There was a day when this was the it spot during Masters.”