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Elkhart Jazz Festival drew crowds to downtown Elkhart businesses

Organizers say festival attendance figures broke records, which led to increased sales for downtown businesses.

Posted on June 24, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Some local businesses were smiling this morning as they tallied their register receipts from the weekend.

Elkhart Jazz Festival organizers estimated about 15,000 people attended the event. The festival sold $160,000 in tickets, which is a record, according to co-chairman Kurt Janowsky. David Smith, festival co-chair and general manager of the Lerner, said the festival sold four times more passes for Sunday than in past years.

Those figures translated into local economic impact, said Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lawson said it was a “wonderful” weekend for hotels.

"We haven’t done an economic impact study of the festival for several years but I can tell you that this event is really something the businesses look forward to,” Lawson said.

In addition to the festival, the Back to the Bricks collectible auto tour brought about 300 people to town from around the Midwest. The tour’s organizers chose to stop in Elkhart because of the festival, Lawson said.

The Vine, 214 S. Main St., enjoyed strong sales, said manager Brandon Kowalski.

"We were packed for Aaron Neville,“ Kowalski said. ”That was a big draw Saturday night.“

Kowalski said The Vine kept its kitchen open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, rather than the typical 10 p.m., and the bar served drinks until 12:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday instead of the normal 11:30 p.m.

The upscale restaurant and bar typically isn’t open on Sundays but decided to try it during this year’s festival. 

The Vine decided not to open on Sunday of last year’s festival after Sunday sales were slow two years ago — people were largely packing up to go home in the afternoon, but this year there were shows happening later into the day.

"This year was worth it to be open, for sure,“ Kowalski said.

Women’s clothing retailer Stephenson’s, 211 S. Main St., did well with its sidewalk sale, with Thursday sales the strongest, followed by Saturday, said owner Danny Reynolds. Friday’s intermittent showers dampened sales that day.

Reynolds said the store has been holding the festival sale for at least 20 years.

"A lot of the people we’ve come to know as friends, groups who come from Chicago and Canada, and they always make it a point to come in and do some shopping,” he said.

Singer Joan Callaso, from Chicago, is an annual customer, Reynolds said. She came to the store in between her sets.

"She’s great and she often wears our things on stage. I always tell her to feel free to announce that on stage,“ Reynolds said with a laugh.

It was a huge weekend for The Black Crow on Main, a home furnishing and decor store at 224 S. Main St., said Peter Recchio, who owns the store with his wife Dawn. The store, which includes a coffee shop and farmer’s market, opened in December.

"Oh my goodness, it was incredible,” Recchio said. “We probably had the better part of 5,000 people through our store from Friday through Sunday.”

Recchio said they did the equivalent of two to three weeks’ typical sales volume over the weekend, and gained exposure to those who might not have seen their advertising.

"It was a success in any way, shape or form you can slice it,” he said.

Not everyone downtown saw more business. Foot traffic was slow at The Black Crow on Main’s next-door neighbor, Skinner the Printer, said co-owner Kristin Cooper. In past years, the store has sold T-shirts with festival goers’ photos screened on them, but that didn’t happen this year, she said.

"It was very, very small this year,“ Cooper said of festival traffic. ”I think if we’d had better weather, we would have had a better turnout.”


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