COLUMBIA — An estimated 120,000 to 130,000 people converged on downtown Columbia Friday and Saturday for the second Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival, according to Tasha Riggins, head of media relations for Thumper Entertainment, who cited figures from Columbia police. Music, food and ideal weather conditions helped create a party-like atmosphere downtown, which led to increased foot traffic for many businesses.
Despite the increased attendance, (which may have doubled last year's 60,000 people) the future of the festival is anything but certain.
The festival was possible this year largely due to a $100,000 gift from the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, according to Lorah Steiner, executive director of the bureau, contributing that large a sum next year is not feasible.
"That was a one-time gift," Steiner said. "That doesn't mean there won't be any financial participation on our part. We just can't afford to give $100,000 each year to the event."
"We definitely want to do it again, and we want to keep it free," Riggins said.
One of the festival's other sponsors, Shelter Insurance Cos., is taking a "wait and see" approach. The company sponsored the stage at Eighth and Cherry streets.
"It's hard to say what the mind-set will be next year," said Joe Mosley of Shelter Insurance. "We wanted to make it clear we weren't making an ongoing agreement, but we're not ruling anything out for the future."
This leaves Thumper Entertainment looking in all directions for sponsors.
"We're looking for sponsors, whether they be local, state, national, whatever," Riggins said. "We're encouraging people to write letters on our behalf to city council members."
Riggins said that it would be at least a month before organizers will know for sure if there will be a festival next year.
Despite uncertainty surrounding the festival's future, there is little doubt that the event was a boon for many downtown businesses.
"On Saturday there was a 200 (percent) to 250 percent increase in sales compared to a regular Saturday," said David Friesen, manager of Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream on Ninth Street. "It was nearly twice the size of our busiest day ever."
Steve Tuchschmidt, co-owner of Vespa of Columbia on Broadway, described Saturday's foot traffic as "absolutely insane," noting that 177 people visited the store that day.
"People entered the store we wouldn't even have been able to get through the door before," Tuchschmidt said. "I think we very possibly sold five units just because of the exposure from people downtown."
The store has been open for a little over a month and sells three or four units a week on average.
Sabrina Braden, owner of Maude Vintage on Broadway, said that her business didn't increase much on Friday. Saturday, though, business was booming. Braden said she usually closes at 8 p.m. but kept the doors open an extra half-hour to accommodate the customers.
"I even had to pretty much ask people to leave," Braden said. "I could've been open 'til 10 easily."