The Trap Shooting Championship, held over nine days last month at the Alexandria Shooting Park, had a new aspect to the schedule this year: individualized shooting times for students. While this might not sound like a big deal, knowing when they were set to shoot enabled them to spend free time during the day in the community.

More than 8,300 students in grades 6-12, plus family members and friends, came to town for what is publicized as the world's largest shooting sport event. With an estimated 25,000 visitors, businesses had these nine days as an opportunity to draw in customers.

John Nelson, president of the USA Clay Target League, oversaw the event. He said 2019 was a record year with nearly 320 schools represented, and attendance numbers increased for the 11th consecutive year.

It has gotten so big that the city's shooting park, the biggest in the state, is getting maxed out, said Josh Kroells, operations manager of the USA Clay Target League. It has 20 shooting stations currently, but if the event continues to grow, he said that more would be needed.

Trap shooting draws a unique crowd, and Nelson commonly saw three generations in attendance - students, parents and grandparents. He said many groups stayed longer, making the trip into a vacation. "If they weren't shooting, they were probably boating, fishing or at the beach. It's a very family-friendly atmosphere."

Approximately 55 businesses and other exhibitors took part, and Nelson said 99.9 percent of comments he heard from attendees were all positive.

"The city of Alexandria should measure the positive impact that comes into the area; as far as I understand, it's the largest event in Alexandria for the whole year," he said.

Bill Franzen, co-owner of Dunn Brothers Coffee, did not have a booth at the competition but saw an increase in his business during those nine days. He called the event "phenomenal."

The Boulder Tap House, located about three miles from the shooting park, was very busy during the tournament. Jessica Clark, general manager of the restaurant, said the extra business made for a profitable week. The restaurant had its coolers stocked with food ready to be prepared and its servers were anticipating the extra customers.

"We knew they were coming, so we were fully prepared for it," she said.

The ideal audience

The Trap Shooting Championship is a prime event for this year's title sponsor, Alexandria Technical and Community College. It had a booth at the event with representatives from the college.

"This is our target audience," said Rebekah Summer, director of institutional research and communications.

She talked to students not only about ATCC and the programs it offers, but also what the college process is like in general. She also fielded general Alexandria questions, handing out community guides and advising families what they might enjoy.

"It's an opportunity to help them connect with this community and the richness and vibrancy of this area," she said.

The college has already renewed its title sponsorship for 2020.

Challenges in hosting

While there is a lot of value for residents and businesses in having the competition in Alexandria, it is a struggle to keep exhibitors coming back every year.

"A nine-day event is exhausting for everybody who's trying to be out there," Summer said.

Kroells said some platinum sponsors don't see fit to have a presence at the event. However, it does attract out-of-town exhibitors who like coming to Alexandria and see the appeal of being present for nine days. Plus, they can take advantage of the new faces that come in every day.

"There are nine opening ceremonies and nine award ceremonies each day; the vendors are there to give them the best experience possible," he said.

Kroells said the opportunity to talk to people from out of town can be an attractive one for local organizations and businesses. Summer said there isn't another opportunity to show Minnesotans Alexandria quite like this one.

"This is a unique environment and it's why we live here."