Brickley’s Ice Cream owner Steve Groffi has had, for the last seven years, a front-row seat to a town’s cultural revitalization from his shop’s front door on Wakefield’s Main Street, in South Kingstown.
Restaurants began popping up and expanding, including PHIL’s Main Street Grille. Additional shops and service businesses, including a yoga studio, opened nearby.
Then, just this summer, The Contemporary Theater Co., a seven-year-old performance troupe, moved in right across the street and Groffi saw a 15 percent spike in business for the season.
“I can attribute a portion of that to [the theater]. They’re generating [traffic] … it has certainly been a good thing for downtown and we’ve really helped one another.”
According to the Rhode Island Cultural Data Program, nonprofit theater companies in the state generated over $13 million in revenue and had a combined attendance of 264,386 for paid and free admissions in 2010, the most recent numbers available.
Those figures include 10 theaters, but not The Contemporary Theater or Theatre By the Sea, formerly the Ocean State Theater Co., in South Kingstown.
The numbers do include the state’s perhaps best-known theater companies: Trinity Repertory Co. in Providence and The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket.
“All you need to do is go downtown in Providence any night that Trinity Rep is active and functioning and you’re going to see. Restaurants are busy, parking lots are full, bars are going to be active,” said Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the R.I. State Council on the Arts. “There’s a direct quid pro quo, from people attending to spending money that helps drive the Rhode Island economy.”
That flow of impact from theater ticket sales to restaurant bills and business at other area proprietors can be hard to measure, though the theory is simple.
If a couple or group of people have tickets to an evening show, which generally curtains somewhere around 7 or 8 p.m., they often will either go out for dinner beforehand or a drink or dessert afterward. Sometimes they’ll do both.
They also likely will park at least one car in a paid city garage or lot and could, at least in the case of Providence, take a stroll through nearby shop-filled streets.