The Downtown "Fest" Season Strikes Again

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It’s finally summer in Bend, and right on schedule downtown merchant and blogger extraordinaire Duncan McGeary has posted his first rant of the season against downtown street closings.

Well, it isn’t a rant, actually – more like a mild sigh of protest. “So for 3/4ths of the next six weeks or so – the very meat of summer – we will have closed streets on the weekend,” McGeary posted Friday. “It appears there is a new event tacked on, as well as the bike race today, which was a new event last year. (I could swear they said they weren't going to add new events.)

“Oh, well. The majority of the downtown retailers seem to like these events, or at least acquiesce to them. So be it.”

Maybe it’s an age thing, but increasingly I find myself agreeing with McGeary on the street closing issue. I mean, I enjoy special outdoor events as much as the next guy, but haven’t we reached the point of overkill?

Friday afternoon I had the urge for a cortado, so I drove downtown to get one at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters off Minnesota. I’d forgotten about the bicycle race, so I was surprised – and annoyed – to see all the yellow police tape blocking off the downtown core.

I almost said “Fuhgeddaboutit!” and headed back home, but my cortado craving overcame my irritation; I finally found a spot in the parking garage, walked over to Lone Pine and had my beverage.

It apparently is generally assumed that special events boost downtown business, but nobody seems to have any hard data to prove it. No doubt the events draw a certain number of people downtown, and some percentage of them might walk into McGeary’s store (or somebody else’s), and some percentage of those might buy something. But how many other people get discouraged and go home – or don’t bother to come downtown in the first place because they don’t want to contend with the crowds and the parking hassle?

And it’s not as if each of these events is a unique, not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime experience. All of Bend’s innumerable “fests” are pretty much the same: some music, some beer booths, some wine booths, some food booths, and some booths selling miscellaneous tchotchkes and “art.”


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