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Saturday night's Oktoberfest celebration was a huge success for downtown Elkhart, in the estimation of Mad Anthony Brewing Company general manager John Ravenscroft.
"We had one of our biggest nights since we opened," Ravenscroft said of the event, which began on the Civic Plaza in the afternoon and moved indoors to downtown restaurants and bars in the evening.
Early in the day live bands played on the plaza, and 35 teams competed in a competitive cornhole tournament. The $1,554 in proceeds from the afternoon, including a percentage of the sales of beer and hot dogs, will be donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Elkhart County.
Later on the festivities took the form of German food and drink specials at downtown establishments, most of which were enjoyed by a marked increase in the number of patrons according to Brownstone Lounge General Manager Bill Seals.
"The punch card that Steve offered -- it really worked. It got people into places they haven't been before, or haven't been in years," he said. Seals estimates that he did 40 percent to 50 percent more business on Saturday than he usually does on that night -- even running out of kielbasa before closing time.
Steve Gruber, executive director of Downtown Elkhart, Inc., created a punch card for the evening's activities that listed the eight downtown businesses which were offering evening specials. Any patron who got his or her card punched at all eight places was entered into a drawing to win airfare for two to Las Vegas. That drawing will take place today after all of the 400-some cards have been collected from all of the businesses involved, Gruber said.
While Oktoberfest's success may or may not signal of the end of the recession for Elkhart, it was definitely a very positive sign, he added.
"It did something that was urgently needed for Elkhart. It raised the visibility of the downtown."
Although Gruber said he had expected the event to attract primarily young, professional residents, he was surprised to see that the crowd varied in age and even somewhat in demographics, with patrons coming from Granger and South Bend as well as Elkhart to enjoy the offerings.
"I think with everything in the economy being bad, instead of taking the kids to Disney World now they'll stay home and go out. People still want to have a good time, and this is right here right now," Gruber said.