It's not often that you see well-dressed men, colorful reflective vests pulled over their suit jackets, directing drivers and pedestrians on the early morning streets of downtown Rochester.
The final weekend convention is this Friday through Sunday, with about 4,000 delegates expected, said Dave Wilson, a media services volunteer with the organization.
"It's been increasing," Wilson said of the number of weekend sessions in Rochester. "It used to be four weekends, but we've made them smaller" and added more weekends. Whereas the organization formerly brought up to 6,000 members each weekend for four weeks, attendance is now up to 4,500 each weekend for six weeks.
Any way you slice it, that represents a hefty economic impact for Rochester hotels, restaurants and merchants: about $3 million per weekend, said Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau. Figure in the organization's smaller meetings held in autumn in Rochester and the total 2016 economic impact was estimated at $22.7 million, Jones said.
The figure for the summer meetings is based on a typical three-day weekend, with about 4,000 to 5,000 Jehovah's Witness attendees in town, Jones said. About 29 percent of that $3-million weekend total comes from spending on food and beverage, 21 percent on retail, and 14 percent on lodging.
The amount spent on food and beverage would likely be greater if the attendees didn't carry their own lunches with them each day to the civic center.
"We've talked to them about that, and that's something they encourage," Jones said. "They encourage mingling. They do eat breakfast and dinner out. It's not a big deal in Rochester because we have such a vibrant lunch hour anyway."
"The friends like to associate with each other and that's one of the things we promote," Wilson said of the lunch tradition. "Rather than take off and go to a restaurant, they're encouraged to bring something to eat, and to get to know one another."
This year's meetings were the first for the organization in the newly expanded Mayo Civic Center. "The new facility is beautiful," Wilson said.
On the other hand, there have been major road construction projects and detours downtown this summer.
"We've been sending out diagrams, making sure they know where to go when they get into Rochester," Wilson said.
Attendees come primarily from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The theme of this summer's conventions is "Don't Give Up." The program includes talks and interviews, a feature film, and a Sunday morning session, "Never Give Up Hope!"