Over the next few days in Chapel Hill, NC, Little Rock AR, Milwaukee, WI, Columbia and other cities across the country, people will begin packing their bags for a few days in Greenville. March Madness takes over the city this weekend as eight teams play in the first and second rounds of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
About 14,000 fans are expected in town, according to VisitGreenvilleSC, and they could pump more than $3.6 million into our local economy. Some of that spending, could be as simple as buying a new T-shirt.
NCAA licensed fan gear will be on sale inside the arena during the tournament, according to Lisa Crawford, Marketing Manager for The Well.
Outside of the arena, local retailers are preparing for the big weekend.
On Monday at the Vault on Main Street, owner Wayne Welden was preparing for the influx of fans that will pass through his store in the next few days looking for a new shirt, hat or other merchandise to show their stripes. A mannequin outside of specialty retailer wearing an Atlanta Braves T-shirt and Clemson cap now holds two t-shirts, one with a Duke University logo and the other, its rival, UNC Tar Heels.
Welden routinely changes the display gear to reflect sporting events in town. The mannequin changes to represent the Swamp Rabbits and Greenville Drive. Last week it sported garnet for the Gamecocks women's basketball team in the SEC Women's Tournament, one of the biggest sporting events in Greenville in years.
But the 2017 NCAA tournament is even bigger. In fact, it's the largest event since Welden opened The Vault three and a half years ago. Located just a half mile from where games will be played, The Vault is the closest place to pick up licensed gear outside of the arena.
The store sells items with officially licensed vintage logos for dozens of teams in the NCAA and beyond. Welden said The Vault carries gear representing 44 of the 64 teams competing in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament. That includes all of the teams set to play Friday at The Well except Troy and Texas Southern, because those schools do not have a NCAA licensed vault logo.
The selection includes plenty of options for fans of the nearly hometown South Carolina Gamecocks, as well as close to four dozen other competitors. "If they’re in the tournament and you like them, we’ve probably got them," Welden said, though he admits he pays special attention to the University of North Carolina and Duke when it comes to March Madness orders.
“Usually, come tournament time, we want to be pretty heavy for Duke and North Carolina anyway, because they’re usually a pretty good bet.”
Greenville landed both powerhouse programs. With a less than four hour drive for fans from Durham and Chapel Hill and fan bases with reputations for traveling well, it's a potentially lucrative get for retailers like Welden. He said he's already ordered dozens of extra Duke and UNC shirts that should arrive just in time for the tournament tip off.
“We were hoping all along for North Carolina and or Duke, so we’ve got a lot for them plus we’ve got another shipment, supposed to be here Friday, so hopefully we’ll be locked and loaded for those guys.”
The Vault didn't make special orders according to which teams were assigned to Greenville's bracket. Welden said the items sold in his store are made in the USA and shipped from California, so orders have to be given a little extra time and he has to be savvy about what his customers might want.
When it comes to the Gamecocks, timing is everything. South Carolina's appearance in the NCAA tournament in Greenville comes on the heels of the SEC Women's Tournament. The Gamecock women won their third straight championship just over a week ago at The Well. The men's team comes to town with a 22-10 record and third place in the SEC. The Vault, which keeps a strong stock of both USC and Clemson gear year-round, had already boosted USC stock ahead of last week's tournament.
Justin Williams, of Greenville, picked up a USC shirt at the Main Street store on Monday. “I just needed a new shirt. This is a new era for the Gamecocks, hopefully we can pull out a win, so I figured I needed a new shirt.” Williams has tickets to Friday and Sunday's games, though he didn't say which day he'd wear his new shirt, he's hoping to see South Carolina take on Duke on Sunday.
Gamecock fans, like Williams, should have no trouble finding gear to represent their team with USC merchandise sold in countless stores across the Upstate. Walmart, Dick's, Palmetto Moon and others keep a USC stock year round.
Despite the emphasis on Duke and UNC gear, for Welden, it's not just about the teams from the Carolinas. His store is ready to help fans of any team show their stripes. “Our store’s kind of built on people from other places."