Festival’s economic impact comes down to location, location, location

  • Thursday, April 4, 2013

 
Friday marks the start of the Flowertown Festival, Summerville’s annual celebration of spring and handmade crafts.
 
Hundreds of vendors are ready to sell their wares. Some are local, but many more travel here from all over the Southeast and as far away as California.
 
With so much attention focused on the vendors at the festival, how much do local businesses profit from the thousands of people who stream into town?
 
It depends.
 
An economic impact study conducted in 2011 by the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis concluded the festival had an economic impact of $22 million.
 
Those calculations were based on a small sample of survey respondents – 133 locals and 26 visitors – so the study warned its conclusions should be viewed cautiously.
 
The study’s author, Dr. Bing Pan, is on sabbatical, but his colleague Raymond Rhodes said vendors would be staying at hotels and eating at restaurants, in addition to the actual festival attendees.
 
The town gives the Summerville Family YMCA, which organizes the festival as a fundraiser, $52,524 in hospitality and local accommodations tax funds.
 
Nearly that entire amount is returned to the town or its employees, CEO Gary Lukridge said, because the YMCA pays police officers to patrol the festival and will reimburse the town for overtime costs for parks and recreation employees.
 
For downtown businesses, whether the festival brings extra shoppers comes down to geography.
Lyn Beam, owner of Tea Farm Cottage on Cedar Street, said the festival weekend is slow.
People are so tired after walking through the festival they just don’t have the energy to stop by, she said.
 
At Simple to Sublime on Short Central Avenue, Samantha Moore said she noticed a definite positive change last year, her first in that location, from when she was located on the north side of the railroad tracks.
 
At the old location, people walked by her shop from their street parking but didn’t stop in, she said.
Even so, she said, the festival is a wonderful occasion for the town and she looks forward to it every year.
 
Others on Short Central Avenue said last year was actually the worst festival weekend.
Frankie Liady at Marigold’s said the festival weekend is usually like Christmas. Besides the actual weekend, the vendors come in during the week before to shop, she said.
She also has regulars who return every year.
 
Last year, however, business dropped off sharply. Shopkeepers suspected it was because more people were being directed to satellite lots and the shuttle was dropping people off directly at the festival entrance.
 
They expressed their concerns to the YMCA, she said, and this year the shuttle will be dropping off at Single Smile Café, so she hopes business will return to its usual pace.
 
Noelle and Marsino Zandri’s Off the Wall Art Gallery on East 3rd North Street had been open only a short while at the time of last year’s festival.
 
They’ll be better able to gauge the economic impact this year, she said. Last year they had a booth at the festival itself, which was helpful for introducing themselves to the community and making contacts.
 
She’s had several customers come into the store who said they first met her at the festival, she said, and some made purchases at both the festival and the store.
 
This year, however, they’re handling the festival a little differently. They held a “meet your local artist” party Thursday evening with artist demonstrations and food from local bakers to mark the beginning of the festival.
 

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