Businesses, hotels ready for Women’s Convention

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

As an estimated 5,000 attendees, speakers and volunteers descend on Detroit this weekend for the first Women’s Convention in 40 years, local hotels, restaurants and other businesses are gearing up to make a good impression.

Hotels are expected to run at 80 to 90 percent occupancy and some local restaurants will have special receptions.

“It’s wonderful seeing people coming together and trying to make a change,” said Zach Fairchild, co-director of Hostel Detroit, which is booked this weekend.

Even one local yarn shop is stocked up and ready to go. Hot pink knit “pussy hats” became a symbol of protest at January’s historic Women’s March when 2 million people converged in Washington.

This weekend’s convention, which starts Friday and runs through Sunday at Cobo Center, is a follow-up to the march and will include dozens of workshops and programs aimed to sustain the momentum.

“We have a ton of that yarn, so we are ready,” said Marilyn Grazioli, co-owner of Ewe-Nique Knits in downtown Royal Oak with her daughter, Amy Goller. “It’s a beautiful pink yarn by a company called Malabrigo. It’s fuschia. That was very popular for January.”

The convention is expected to pump an estimated $1 million into the the local economy, said Mike O’Callaghan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Even more important, said O’Callaghan, is the impression Detroit makes on attendees. If it’s a good one, they’ll tell their friends, which could result in a much bigger investment down the road.

“That’s something that is so important,” said O’Callaghan. “Things are changing so much here that we keep reinforcing the idea if visitors have a great experience, they’ll tell their friends. It’s really, really important. It may be even more important, in my mind, than the dollar value. Reinforcing our reputation and telling the story about the great things that are happening in Detroit, that’s just priceless.”

The Detroit Renaissance Marriott is the host hotel for the convention but attendees will be staying all over Metro Detroit.

Hostel Detroit, a nonprofit hostel located in Corktown that can house up to 36 people in dorm-style and private rooms, has been sold out for months, said Fairchild. Groups of women from South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and the West Coast are staying there for the convention.

Fairchild said he wishes they could house more guests. They often host tours of the city for guests and one is scheduled for a group of attendees Saturday morning.

“Our main mission is to educate people about the city of Detroit,” he said.

Some Metro Detroiters are even opening their homes for convention attendees to stay for free. Pheonix MacGregor, 42, a psychologist in Lincoln Park, typically rents her master bedroom on Airbnb and decided to give it to a convention attendee for free this weekend.

“I’m not able to attend the convention, but I wanted to participate in some way and thought that would be a good way to help somebody else go,” MacGregor said.

Restaurants also are gearing up. The Signature Grill on the Detroit Riverfront tower will host an event Saturday afternoon with former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, a gubernatorial candidate, for Women’s Convention guests. They’re expecting 40-50 people.

“I think it’s great,” said owner Chuckie Sugayan. “Anything that comes to Detroit is important. The more people we can get here, the better.”

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Twitter: @mfeighan

Staff Writer Stephanie Steinberg contributed.