By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
Get ready Dunn, the Sudan Shriners are coming this weekend and they’re bringing their wallets.
The Dunn Shrine Club will host the Sudan’s Fall Ceremonial and with it hundreds of Shriners and their families who will surely leave behind another economic swell when they head home on Sunday.
According to Sharon Stevens, Dunn Area Travel and Tourism executive director, the last time the group was here, the impact on hotels alone was significant.
She said in 2015 the collective group spent $30,000 for their lodging alone and likely another $10,000 — or greater — on restaurants and shopping.
“When we have events like this, not only does it create hotel occupancy taxes and monies into that, but other areas as well,” Mrs. Stevens said. “You’re also looking at the purchases of gas, the restaurants and many stores throughout our city.”
According to Dunn Shrine Club member — and future potentate — Buddy Brown, the Ceremonial usually encompasses 190 to 200 hotel rooms.
“With that many rooms it will obviously be a good impact,” he said. “Obviously the restaurants will see a great impact, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, those are big impacts.”
Restaurants will also feel a lot of the impact based on the way things run during the Ceremonial.
Mrs. Stevens points out it happens simply because many wives spend time in town while their husbands are conducting Shrine business.
“When the men are in meetings, the wives have the opportunity to shop,” Mrs. Stevens said. “They’ll be in all our downtown shops as well as our mall stores, Belk, Roses, places like that.”
The ladies also gather for a breakfast on Saturday morning prior to the parade, a breakfast that is catered locally.
“The last time we were here in 2015, we had around 200 ladies at the Saturday morning breakfast,” Mr. Brown said. “We use local catering so that’s another impact.”
Harnett County Commissioner Abe Elmore, who has been a member of the Shrine Club for 54 years, says the impact of more than just the Ceremonial itself will bring dollars to Dunn.
The parade, which features Shrine units from all across the eastern portion of North Carolina and will be held in Downtown Dunn beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, will bring a large number of spectators depending on the weather. Mr. Elmore said if the weather is good, you could see a rush to eat and shop helping boost the wallets of area businesses.
“If the weather’s good, and it’s supposed to be this weekend, that just brings all kinds of people to town,” he said. “That’s another group of people who go into places to eat.”
Mr. Brown notes that of the units in the parade, many don’t stay overnight because of the close proximity to Dunn. He estimates an additional 500 or more will be here on Saturday and they bring with them additional shoppers and eaters.
“It varies, it really does,” Mr. Brown said. “So we could easily have 500 to 600 show up for Saturday. There’s also the golf tournament on Friday and the weekend dances for members. Where we’re located means many members can drive here in less than hour.”
Mr. Elmore says cooperative weather, parade watchers and Shriners not participating in the parade could help push the total number of spectators for the parade beyond 3,000.
“If the weather is nice and pretty, we could get anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 people out there,” he said. “A lot are not in units in the parade. They just come to watch it and to have some fun with other Shriners.”
Mrs. Stevens raises another point about side benefits to the community from the parade. She said when you take into consideration the various participants in the parade, local gas stations could get some extra benefits.
“If they drive here, especially the Sudan motorized units, they have to buy gas,” she said. “If they’re hauling different things they have no choice, so they’ll buy gas to pull the trailers back home.”
As for reaping those benefits again, the chances are good the Shriners will return in the near future. Mr. Elmore said Dunn’s location — and willingness to host the event — plays a major role in the city being selected.
“One advantage we have here in Dunn is that we have units, Lillington and Fayetteville have units, Smithfield and four or five other places,” Mr. Elmore said. “It’s close for those guys to come here along with the guys from New Bern and Wilmington and other places.”
Because of the work it takes to put on a Ceremonial, planning began as far back as a year ago, Dunn is a perfect place.
“Dunn has always been a good market and not many places can say this,” Mr. Elmore said. “They come every couple of years and some towns have not had one, but want one, and some don’t want them. There’s a lot of work to put in to pull it off.”
Mr. Brown says while the entire event is meant to bring fun, it is also meant to bring awareness for the organization’s goal, which is to support Shriners Hospitals.
“The biggest thing I can say is how much we really appreciate the support from the public in town,” he said. “We like to have a good time. But our main focus is on the hospitals.”
Shriners Hospitals treat children regardless of their ability to pay.
The closest hospital to this area is in Greenville, S.C. If a family needs help getting there, a group called the Roadrunners takes them. If your child, or you know of a child, who needs special medical care, ask a Shriner.