WHAT: Final Twilight Festival, including performances by Split Lip Rayfield at The Blue Note, Mark Risch at Cool Stuff, Los Desterrados in the gazebo at Flat Branch Park and children's activities at the park. Free cake will be served.
WHEN: From 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Downtown Columbia
COLUMBIA — Thursday evening marks the end of the Twilight Festival, a tradition begun 19 years ago by the Central Columbia Association to boost downtown crowds.
Held every Thursday night in June and September, the festivals feature live music, vendors and kids' activities. But the CCA decided to end the festival this year in part because it wasn't the most efficient use of the city's time.
"It eats up a huge amount of resources, and the question became, ‘Is it valuable?'" Carrie Gartner, executive director for the Columbia Special Business District and coordinator of the Twilight Festival, said last month. "We do have to pull back on other areas in order to make the festival happen."
Kurt Mirtsching, marketing director of Shakespeare's Pizza and CCA board member, said the event had served its original purpose.
"(The Twilight Festival) was trying to get people downtown," Mirtsching said. "It used to be really dead except on festival nights. Nowadays, there's always something going on."
While attendance at the festival has hit record levels in recent years — a peak of 12,000 in 2007 — that success has not transferred over to downtown businesses this year. Alex Johnson, director of arts and culture for the Cherry Street Artisan, said the cafe has not seen a big increase in business during the Twilight Festivals this summer, a departure from the past.
"Maybe the three to four years prior to this, Twilight fest nights were enormous," Johnson said.
Despite this year's lackluster performance, he said the end of the festival could still hurt the Artisan's Thursday night sales.
"I think it will be a negative impact on our business," Johnson said. "I'm sorry it's going."
Mirtsching and Adam Dushoff, owner of Addison's and also a CCA board member, agreed that the Twilight festivals haven't brought in as much business as they used to. Mirtsching cited as a reason the shift in attendees from mostly families to a younger crowd.
Mirtsching and Dushoff each said ending the festival wouldn't really hurt their businesses or the popularity of downtown.
"Thursday nights are already busy; things are going on," Dushoff said. "I couldn't imagine it will make that much difference."