Thursday marked the final Twilight Festival of the year, and based on organizers’ early estimates, it was one of the most successful.
But some downtown vendors said things were different this September, when turnout seemed to be mostly groups of teenagers who spent their time shouting, scampering around and not spending money.
“I’ve noticed a lot of crap my mom would have grounded me for,” said Beth Elliot, manager of 9th Street Bookstore. As a business owner, Elliot said she was frustrated with how the teenagers came around her store and behaved in ways that possibly pushed other customers away.
“I’ve seen the general running around and yelling and acting foolish and not being polite,” she said. “I saw some kids last Thursday. I don’t know if they were going to cross the street or just acting like it. Then someone threw their water bottle and missed the trash can and left it there. That’s what turns people off.”
Kelly Mitchum, an employee at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream who has worked during four Twilight Festivals, said she never really had a problem with too many teenagers hanging out until this year.
“They’re not doing anything too scandalous, but they do tend to get quite loud,” Mitchum said. “I get a lot of them coming in and out using the restrooms, which is really an issue. They tend to stick around after the festival is over, too.”
Columbia Police Sgt. Lloyd Simons said he has also noticed a change, but said there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in arrests.
Two Columbia police officers patrol downtown, and occasionally off-duty officers volunteer to help during the event, Simons said. However, he said the department has not asked for extra help during the festival because of the increase in rowdy teenagers.
“I know we have had a few disturbances involving juveniles, but specifically we haven’t done anything to address it because it hasn’t been a big problem yet,” Simons said. “But that could certainly change. If we identify a trend, or we see a concern developing with youth causing a widespread problem, we’ll address it.”
Special Business District Executive Director Carrie Gartner said the festival, which the District estimates averages 9,000 people each week and has reached as high as 12,000, is nearing its limit in terms of the number of people it can accommodate. But she said she doesn’t believe the types of people who are attending has changed.
“The interesting thing is that it’s the same as it normally is here in the District,” Gartner said. “It’s just that when you have 12,000 people it seems much bigger.”
She said statistics for the Twilight Festival actually show an increase in the number of 31- to 60-year-olds in September as compared to June, the other time when the event is held.
One way the District is trying to spread out its large crowd, Gartner said, is by stretching the festival past Elm Street and further along Cherry Street.
“With the Youzeum opening, I’m really seeing Cherry Street as a great place to start having more acts and entertainment,” she said. “We are always on the lookout for sidewalks getting too crowded for people to move through, but part of Twilight is standing around and enjoying music or talking with friends, so that’s what we like to see people doing.”
At Slackers CDs and Games, Assistant Manager Kate Passin said because of the store’s merchandise, she is used to attracting groups of teenagers and has learned how to deal with them.
“Usually, if someone’s being inappropriate they’ll be asked to leave,” Passin said.
Gartner said the fact that downtown attracts people of all ages is a good thing and something the District will continue to strive for.
“We’re a place where everybody comes to and everybody feels comfortable,” Gartner said. “That’s what makes us different. We like the fact that the District is one place in town where all different types of people interact. So long as they behave themselves, then that’s fine.”