By Jennifer Inez Ward

This weekend’s two-day Oakland Running Festival isn’t just about competitive running events. It’s also a showcase opportunity for the city. Civic pride will run high and neighborhoods normally ignored by foot traffic and tourists will get full on exposure.

With routes running from the Bay waters to the hills, many say that this will be the most community-inclusive city event we’ve had in a very long time.

Thousands of runners from all over the country are expected to participate in both the marathon and half marathon events. Hundreds will also take part in the Saturday 5K race. There will also be a four-person relay event, and a “kid fun” event.

And expectations are high that the economic boom will be big for small businesses, especially those located away from our main business districts. Corrigan Sports, the event organizer, reports that a similar race they ran in Baltimore, MD drew 20,000 runners and pumped about $25 million in revenue from hotel, dining and other retail into the local economy.  Since Oakland’s race is in its first year—and has 6,000 runners—we could imagine that the revenues flowing into the city might be closer to $2-$1.5 million.

The festival could not have at a better time for some of our mom and pop Oakland shops. Many businesses along the festival’s race routes are now feeling the twin whammy of the recession and also being located in an economic “dead zone”.

For those businesses, the hope is that festival participants and race supporters will shop, buy, and become long term customers.

Both the marathon and the half marathon courses will touch ground on most key areas of the city. Besides looping around downtown, the hills, and Lake Merritt, the race will also zip along: International Avenue, Mandala Parkway, MLK, and streets in Chinatown. The Dimond District and Jack London Square will also be part of the courses.

Larger businesses in the community will also join in the festival. The Oakland Raiders are sponsoring the first mile of the marathon, and Whole Foods will have a food tent at the finish line.

And yes, our fantastic business districts will get much love as well.

The Uptown will have much to showcase and the Temescal gourmet alley will shine brightly.

Here’s hoping this weekend’s event will help not only our large businesses, but also those small stores and restaurants struggling to keep their doors open.