Twilight Festival changes pump up businesses

With Ninth Street closed to cars, festivalgoers are shopping more.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008
Laurie and Alan Hahn tap their feet to the beat of the Ironweed Bluegrass Band during the Twilight Festival on June 7.

Some downtown businesses are pleased with the results of changes to the Twilight Festival.

Carrie Gartner, director of the Columbia Special Business District and the Central Columbia Association, said she thinks two of the most important changes for the festival were combining the two kids areas, Court House Square and Flat Branch Park, into one at Flat Branch Park and closing a section of Ninth Street between Broadway and Cherry Street. Closing the street made it possible to move the large concert venue into the heart of the business square.

“It’s funny; you bring all the people right into the retail and dining area, and they all shop and eat,” Gartner said. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before.”

Laura Wilson, owner of Blackberry Exchange for nearly 10 years, said she agreed the street closing helped.

“I feel like it affected us pretty positively being on Ninth Street,” Wilson said. “We had higher sales. Everything was more condensed.”

The Missourian reported in June that Laura Bullion, one of five partner owners of Bluestem Missouri Crafts on Ninth Street, said people at her business were both “apprehensive and optimistic.” Bullion said she was nervous about the changes but pleased to see the main concert stage closer to her store.

Since the enactment of the changes, Cindy Messer, another of the store’s owners, said she thought it was a favorable change.

“We saw lots of new faces that hadn’t been in the store previously,” Messer said. “It was exciting to welcome them. And we did see an increase in sales compared to last year.”

Messer said she has been pleased with the range of people who have been coming to the store.

“I think people felt safe with the closed street,” she said. “We saw lots of strollers and lots of retirees. It was a nice mix.”

The only concern Messer expressed was that the warm-up session of the headlining band often drowned out the sound of the bands performing nearby.

Some downtown business owners outside Ninth Street also say the changes have had a positive effect on their sales.

“I know that we had higher sales than we have had during the last few years during the festival, and it seemed like a really nice group of people,” said Lisa Klenke, a partner at Calhoun’s Accent Furnishing on Broadway. “We found that in the past, we just had a lot of traffic and no sales. And that changed this year. In the beginning of Twilight, we had great customers and high sales, but then something happened where we drew a lot of people but no customers. I don’t know what happened, but it seems as though we got a lot of our old customers back and a lot of new customers who will make it a point to come back and visit.”

Klenke said the only thing she would change about the festival would be to establish more of a venue for teenagers to go to.

“Shopping in most of the downtown locations is pretty boring for kids,” she said. “But if they had a venue to go to, not just a park but an actual venue, I believe the Twilight Festival would be complete.”

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