Merritt’s business sector is preparing for the economic windfall the Rockin’ River Music Festival is expected to bring.

Some of the business-stimulating initiatives spearheaded by the chamber of commerce to expect this weekend include an outdoor mall at Spirit Square, shuttle bus stops between businesses and the festival grounds and an activity based on the TV show The Amazing Race.

The chamber of commerce opted not to host the mall along the street, which may have been familiar to those who remember the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, becuase this is the Rockin’ River Music Festival’s first year in Merritt.

“We didn’t want to go too big,” chamber of commerce director Julie Van Koll said. “And we want to have the buy in from the merchants on Quilchena [Avenue],” she said noting not all businesses were on board for closing down that roadway for a street mall.

Van Koll said if the Spirit Square experiment is successful, the mall could be expanded during next year’s festival.

Gillespie said one reason for the small scale of the outdoor mall is the chamber’s limited amount of volunteers. She also said this location is a more controllable area and will allow them to utilize the stage area for musical acts.

“This year we’re doing it at this scale to test out the waters and see how well received it is,” Gillespie said.

There are about 12 businesses that have signed up for booths. Food, wares, information and even some musical acts, such as festival organizer Kenny Hess, are expected at the mall, which opens today at 10 a.m. and runs through Saturday. A schedule of acts at the mall wasn’t available by the Herald’s press deadline.

The cost to participating businesses is $100 per day to set up a booth at the mall.

Some businesses in the downtown have decided to forgo the mall in favour of setting up a display outside their shops along the sidewalk to capitalize on the influx of people expected this weekend.

Jeanine Gustafson, owner of the souvenir shop Vision Quest — which is located down the street from the square — is one of the businesses doing this.

She said she doesn’t have the staff available to be in two places at once, which is why she didn’t bother to join the others in Spirit Square.

The Amazing Race initiative is another way to familiarize festivalgoers with Merritt businesses.

After signing up for the event at the festival, teams will be tasked with visiting eight businesses in Merritt that will have activities for them to complete.

The fastest time will win tickets for next year’s festival.

“They have to come to the downtown core, follow the map and then do the race,” Gillespie said.

She said she anticipates the race will also bring spectators from the festival to Merritt businesses to watch.

Coopers Foods, Purity Foods, Home Hardware, Vision Quest, The Grand Pub & Grill, Subway, Merritt Desert Inn and Extra Foods will be the participating businesses.

Keith Walliser, owner of Extra Foods said he’s curious to see how this event does.

“It wasn’t very expensive to try it, so we thought if they can at least get people down here … it will get the word out that we’re participating, we’re involved and maybe people will come shop here a little bit more,” Walliser said.

The Amazing Race event is scheduled to take place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.

School buses have been rented from a Kelowna bus company by the chamber of commerce to make a handful of stops around town.

Additionally, Merritt’s BC Transit system will be extending its Diamond Vale route to include a stop at the Moon Shadows Campground for the festival. Transit runs Thursday starting at 4 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The chamber’s shuttle buses will operate from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. between Friday and Sunday.

The shuttles are scheduled to bring people to the festival grounds at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., with pickups from the Railyard Mall parking lot, Spirit Square, the Desert Inn, Nicola Valley Aquatic Centre, the Ramada hotel and Extra Foods.

There will be two shuttle buses running on Friday and Sunday and three operating on Saturday and the benefits depend on the type of business.

Ramada hotel manager Anoop Sekhon said he bought a bus pass to provide his guests a service.

“Taxis are going to be busy, people are drinking and they can’t drive, so we have to provide some sort of service and a shuttle service is ideal,” Sekhon said.

Walliser said the cost to purchase a bus stop for Gasoline Alley is being split between his store and various others in the area, and is hoping the bus will bring in campers and other attendees for all their shopping needs.

The chamber of commerce is also putting together a coupon booklet they are distributing to festivalgoers. Chamber members get their coupons in the booklet for free while non-chamber members had to pay a fee.

“In that guide it’s going to have bus stop information, entertainment information and all the different incentives and sales at other businesses in town,” Gillespie said.

Walliser said he’s hoping to see a big increase in sales over the long weekend compared to last year’s, and hopes the event will promote tourism across the town.