Curling fans, businesses in London, Ont. upbeat with Tim Hortons Brier in town

As the Tim Hortons Brier enters the playoffs stages Friday, local business owners and tourists alike say they are enjoying what the national sporting event has offered for downtown London.

As of the Thursday morning draw, more than 54,400 people have come and gone from Budweiser Gardens to watch the best male curlers in the country compete for the chance to represent Canada at the world championships in Ottawa next month.

One of those attendees is Phyllis DeGrace, a recreational curler from Thornhill, Ont. While calling Thornhill home, DeGrace is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador and says the teams from The Rock brought her to London for the Brier.

“I’m here to see Nathan Young curl and encourage him,” said DeGrace with a Newfoundland and Labrador flag draped around her neck before her favourite team faced Nova Scotia Thursday afternoon.

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“Even though I’ve been in Ontario for several years, it’s my roots.”

DeGrace is one of many who have come to London to watch some of the best curlers in the world in action. With the influx of out-of-town visitors, London tourism officials said before the Bier began, they hoped the city would see an economic boost of between $10 million and $15 million.

“We’re definitely going to see a tremendous impact from people travelling from all over,” said Zanth Jarvis, the director of sports tourism with Tourism London, last week.

One of the businesses that has seen the impact is the Market Cafe in the Covent Garden Market across the road from Budweiser Gardens.

Rafet Sayegh, the owner of the Market Cafe, says the traffic from tourists, players and tournament officials has been a significant boost to small businesses like his. Sayegh says for a business like his, which has yet to see pre-pandemic numbers returns, the Brier is a welcome event.

“Small businesses have been getting killed since the pandemic,” said Sayegh following the busy lunch hour rush. “It’s a very good and creative idea to have activities like this.”

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Sayegh says he hopes the city of London can pursue more events like the Brier in the future.

“I ask all the government entities and organizations to organize similar events to help small businesses stay in business.”

Another local business owner, Chris Havaris of Havaris Produce, says the traffic inside the Covent Garden Market has been noticeably more active since the Brier began.

While his business has not seen the influx in customers as others have due to their main product being produce, Havaris says he hopes tourists will stop by before they leave to grab things like jams and maple syrup.

“Things they can take back as gifts,” says Havaris.

One of the many things that makes events like the Brier and the women’s equivalent in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts special is the regular spectators that come year after year.

Ken Cormack, from Paisley, Ont., says this year’s Brier is the sixth he has attended.

“They do a great job with the event,” says Cormack while wearing a blue hoodie from last year’s Brier in Lethbridge, Alta.

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“The athletes are accessible, it’s very friendly and there’s lots of fun stuff going on outside of the curling.”

One of the marquee places to be when not taking in the curling action has been The Patch at RBC Place. A staple of Briers since 1982, The Patch offers people the chance to get autographs of players during specified times each day, participate in daily games and check out live entertainment at night.

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