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It's lights out for the Twilight Festival

Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 10:37 p.m. CDT; updated 10:29 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Sparky the dog stares down his sculpted twin in front of Sparky's ice cream during the last Twilight Festival on September 25. This is the 19th and final year that the Twilight Festival has been held.

COLUMBIA — As families began gathering in Flat Branch Park for Thursday's Twilight Festival, one of the only visible signs that this was the final fest lay on a small table in the middle of the grass. There, volunteers handed out pieces of a cake emblazoned with "Thank You for 19 Years of the Twilight Fest" in red frosting.

At sites all over downtown, crowds of people soaked in the last evening festival.  In the park, children enjoyed puppet and magic shows, while some played in the creek or had their faces painted. And outside the Boone County Courthouse, others watched fire dancers and a variety of musical performances.

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It was Emily Ryan's first and final experience with Twilight.

"I think it's sad it's going away," Emily Ryan said. "It seems like a nice thing to have."

But the Columbia Community Association, which runs the festival, has said it is a drain on resources. The shift in festival attendees from mostly families to teenagers has also hurt the economic boost once felt by downtown businesses on Twilight nights.

A few blocks east of Flat Branch Park, there was evidence of the demographic shift. Groups of teenagers filled the sidewalks and lay on the grass in Peace Park. They come here every Thursday, not just because their friends are there, but because the Twilight Festival has always marked the beginning and end of their summers.

"I was two when I started going," said Megan Accola, 14. "Me and my grandma used to come here."

Her friends agree that the festival is more than just an excuse to go downtown.

"It just feels like home," Billy Thompson, 16, said.

After Thursday night, Columbia has no more Twilight fests to look forward to. But these teens all vowed to keep coming downtown every Thursday and continue the social tradition.

"Every last one of my friends was mad," Jamal Towson said of Twilight's end. "It's not going to stop people."

Not only are the teens upset over the decision to discontinue the fest, they also think the city has not provided an adequate explanation. Matt Joyce, 18, said he and his friends are seeking answers and asking for a reconsideration.

"A lot of us are trying to get a petition together," he said. "It's pretty much a) why is it going away for good, and b) is there anything we can do."

Joyce also cited a Facebook movement to save the Twilight Festival. A group page on the Web site titled "Petition to Keep Twilight Festival" has over 400 members and urges people to contact city officials to help keep the festival around.

One of the unique things about the Thursday night events, Joyce said, is the ability to connect with people. In past weeks, he has run into several friends with which he had lost touch. Without a common place and time to gather, he said he would have missed out on seeing them again.

Bethany Tunmire, 13, started attending the Twilight Festivals because her friends were all there, and now she uses it as an outlet to make new friends.

"I like meeting new and random people downtown," Tunmire said. "On other nights, there aren't any people here. It's gonna suck (when Twilight is gone). We'll just hang up signs that say "Twilight," but we'll probably get in trouble."

For now, the teens plan to conduct business as usual next Thursday and to fight to keep Twilight next summer.


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Comments

Ray Shapiro September 26, 2008 | 3:02 a.m.

Once Flat Branch Park started having family oriented activities on Thursday, Twilight Festival nights, attendance around 9th street dropped significantly. It was like having two competing/entirely different areas for folks to cluster around. Unfortunately, for greedy business owners, there are no businesses around Flat Branch Park except for Hardees.
It seemed like someone sabotaged the downtown festival by setting up activities in the Flat Branch Park area which kept growing in size and attendance, while interest in "the District" diminished.
The Columbia Community Association has made a mistake to discontinue the festival and should have modified it to make the police department, business owners and customers/citizens happy.
Good-will goes a long way and I'm certain that downtown businesses benefited financially on Thursday nights as well as "carry-over" business at other times. I, for one, will use the closing down of Twilight Festival as a reason and reminder to avoid spending time and money in "The District" until the Twilight Festival returns. The festival will be missed. I hope the businesses miss my patronage and support as well.

(Report Comment)
Missouri Redbeard September 26, 2008 | 11:43 a.m.

Last night some kids were going around kicking out canes that some people need to walk. Sad. We got a real problem in Columbia.

(Report Comment)
David Friesen September 26, 2008 | 12:39 p.m.

As someone who has worked at 9th street businesses during every Twilight for the past 3 years, I must say that the assertion that attendance has dropped is simply wrong. If anything, attendance has risen to the point where the board governing Twilight is unable to deal with the crowds. It is wonderful that there are enough people willing to come out for these things; it would be nice if there were an organization in place that could match their energy and interest. Some businesses benefit more than others, but the town itself improves when people can come together civilly in a place that has more than just crass commercial space. Have fun at the mall, Ray.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 26, 2008 | 1:05 p.m.

Well why don't the downtown business owners group and revitalize the Twilight Festival for next year. You would have all Winter to make your plans,look at more police presence and try to keep it going.

(Report Comment)
Tanner Tucker September 26, 2008 | 5:14 p.m.

"I, for one, will use the closing down of Twilight Festival as a reason and reminder to avoid spending time and money in "The District" until the Twilight Festival returns. The festival will be missed. I hope the businesses miss my patronage and support as well."

...Are you serious?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 26, 2008 | 5:53 p.m.

Tanner Tucker I assure you ray shapiro is quite serious and I for one do not blame him. The increases in crime down town over time,this past event's incidents of fighting and so much more make it a non desirable environment right up with the likes of Douglas Park after dark.
Clean up all of the crime and provide the citizens a healthy and fun environment and you might change his and other's minds but until the down town businessmen see these problems as hampering citizens of Columbia from coming into down town to enjoy what it might have to offer you can rest assured ray shapiro and others who feel as he does will go supporting the businesses in the outer edges of Columbia.
I can say this because I live just one block off of the down town district and for myself I do not even like going out alone down town after dark nor do alot of other citizens of Columbia I know.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 27, 2008 | 12:37 a.m.

Tanner:

I've been known to do a lot of things just to make a point. There's also power in numbers. I hope others do the same and spread their patronage out to corporate lake businesses, as well as find some new favorite spots west, north and east of "The District." Boycotts work if you work 'em!
(While I'm not personally a big fan of the mall, it's not a bad place to consider in cold weather!")

(Report Comment)

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