GEORGETOWN — It could be the paw print banners fluttering from the tops of light posts, the storefront windows displaying orange and black team flags and jerseys or the Bengal burger special that has increased in popularity.
Whatever the case, a stroll through downtown Georgetown makes it clear the Cincinnati Bengals have left their mark on the town of about 20,000.
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The team is holding its training camp at Georgetown College through Aug. 15 and the Georgetown Renaissance Inc. has made an increased effort this year to promote downtown and say ”thank you“ to the team and visitors, said director Kitty Dougoud.
Merchants are trying to attract more people downtown by decorating their windows. They're also offering discount parking coupons for store purchases.
John Simpson, director of the Georgetown-Scott County Tourism Commission, said he has noticed anecdotally that there are more people occupying the hotels and visiting downtown or other businesses when the Bengals hold their training camp at the college.
”Anytime you get more visitors from the outside, it gets more people to the restaurants, hotels, gas stations, retail shops,“ he said. ”There's no question that it has a positive impact.“
Georgetown also benefits from the sports writers covering the Bengals training camp because it gets the city's name into the dateline, Simpson said.
”It's something that you can't put your finger on, but it has an impact when people see that,“ he said. ”People wonder, "Where is Georgetown, Kentucky? What is Georgetown about?'“
The Bengals have been practicing in Georgetown since 1997.
Last year, about 100,000 people visited the camp over a three-week period, said Stacey Varney, co-director of Bengals Camp and director of the college's Conference Center.
In partnership with the Georgetown Renaissance, some downtown businesses are offering coupons for store purchases. Dougoud said the coupons, which knock off $2 on training camp parking, will be collected after they are used to help track what kind of businesses Bengals fans go to.
Dougoud said in the future she plans to coordinate shuttle rides from the training camp to areas throughout Georgetown.
Judging by the license plates, many visitors come from the surrounding states, such as Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, Varney said.
”Welcome Bengals & Fans“ is written in orange paint on the store window of Stone's Throw Artisans on North Broadway. The owner of the handicraft store, Beth Stone, said she noticed there was more enthusiasm shown downtown when the Bengals first started holding their training camp in Georgetown. She admitted that some years she remembers to decorate and other years she doesn't. But each year she notices there is more customer traffic at her store during Bengals training camp.
She is all for the downtown businesses showing the Bengals colors because it shows enthusiasm for the team, she said.
Stone said she has a paint marker and is willing to share.
”We'll just pass it up and down the street,“ she said.
A Bengals flag and a cutout of a Bengals football helmet sat among orange T-shirts, black skirts and orange and black accessories at Between Friends, a clothing consignment store on Main Street.
Owners Melissa Miller and Emily Sevits said about 10 customers who were visiting the Bengals training camp came to the store Monday, typically their slowest day of business.
The small business has to rely on word of mouth or window displays to attract shoppers, Miller said.
”I know there was a more organized effort downtown to really welcome them through the windows,“ she said.
At Fava's, also on Main Street, a Bengals jersey and a sign welcoming fans hang in the window. There's also an advertisement for the Bengal burger special: a half-pound burger with toppings including ”tiger“ sauce, a sauce made specifically for the Bengal burger, and a side of curly tiger tails — seasoned curly fries.
The special is only offered at Fava's during the Bengals training camp, said owner Jeni Gruchow. The burger is so popular that people ask for it even when the camp is over, but the restaurant only makes it during the training camp, she said.
John Linneman of Cincinnati realized that he had arrived at the Bengals practice early on Tuesday and decided to have breakfast at Fava's.
Linneman said he passed by Georgetown ”a couple hundred times“ along Interstate-75, but he hadn't been to the town since the 1960s when he competed against Georgetown College in tennis.
The drive along Main Street motivated him to ride his Harley-Davidson touring bike along a scenic route back to Cincinnati to see more of the countryside, he said.
”I wanted to live in a small town like this, and maybe someday, I will,“ he said.