Small businesses in North Carolina are already losing valuable business because of the new state law limiting protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Companies that cater to travelers from out of state are already feeling an impact from canceled events or are seeing a drop in inquiries. The Raleigh area will lose an estimated $3.5 million because of four conferences canceled or scaled back since the state legislature passed the bill March 23, according to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, and more events might also be canceled. Travel is a big industry in North Carolina, bringing in more than $21 billion in revenue last year.
Some business owners are trying to find ways to replace lost revenue. Others are concerned about being able to recruit out-of-state workers.
Inquiries about Jamie Gilpin’s Asheville area bicycle tours are down about a third since the law was passed. The tours take cyclists to places like the Blue Ridge Mountains, waterfalls and breweries. The falloff in interest was a surprise to Gilpin, owner of Outfitter Bicycle Tours, based in Hendersonville.
“It is a perfect cycle destination — tourism is huge here,” Gilpin says.
Facebook ads about the tours drew angry comments, with some people calling for a boycott of North Carolina.
“We started getting comments like, ‘we’ll never come your way.’ It was kind of a shock to me,” Gilpin says. He stopped running the Asheville ads on social media, deciding to instead promote tours to California, France and Italy.
The law prohibits local ordinances that protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and excludes them from state employment and public accommodation protections. Since its passage, big corporations including online payments company PayPal and entertainment conglomerate Lionsgate canceled plans to do business in the state. Rock stars Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled concerts, which meant a drop in business for hotels and restaurants near the concert venues. The circus act Cirque du Soleil canceled shows in three cities.
When poet Sherman Alexie canceled a May 18 appearance at Malaprop’s Bookstore, the Asheville shop reached out to other authors and asked them not to cancel as well, general manager Linda-Marie Barrett says. So far, no one else has.
“These events are really important as a source of revenue for the bookstore,” Barrett says. Malaprop’s plans a fundraiser for groups working to repeal the law on the evening that Alexie, who canceled all his planned appearances in North Carolina, was scheduled to appear.
Barrett is concerned about the summer months, when the store gets as much business from tourists as it does from year-end holiday shopping. But if fewer people visit Asheville and the store, Malaprop’s will likely hold events to bring in local residents, Barrett says.