Arts Festival helps market Decatur and its businesses, city officials say

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 22, 2015
A photo from the 2013 Decatur Arts Festival, courtesy of the Decatur Arts Alliance.

A photo from the 2013 Decatur Arts Festival, courtesy of the Decatur Arts Alliance.

The annual Decatur Arts Festival returns this weekend and while some local business owners see sales pick up, the real economic boost comes from the marketing the festival provides, city officials say.

Tonight’s ArtWalk kicks off the event, which will be held Saturday, May 23 and Sunday May 24.

Beth Thompson, owner of HomeGrown Decatur, has a natural segue into the festivities with her art and souvenir shop.

“We have great foot traffic,” Thompson said. “It’s interesting because just this afternoon we were looking at sales trends. May, as a general rule, for us is about as busy as November, consistently over the last four years or five years. Part of that is the Arts Festival. It’s a busy weekend. They sort of come in waves. All the festivals bring a lot of people in, but our sales are particularly good on Friday night with the Art Walk.”

Saturday’s busy, too, with lots of people entering the store, sometimes to beat the heat by taking advantage of HomeGrown’s air conditioning, Thompson said. She said that doesn’t always translate into higher sales. But customers remember and often come back.

“That helps us for sure,” Thompson said. “It is always very busy. From a sales perspective we probably get a lot of people who just find us and come back and shop later.”

Linda Harris, assistant director of community and economic development for the city of Decatur, said the city’s festivals began years ago when there wasn’t a thriving business district.

“They do not necessarily drive people into the businesses during the festivals themselves but let people who may not be familiar with Decatur see what else we have to offer and then come back another time,” Harris said. “When we started these festivals, we had very few local restaurants so the festival organizers had to bring in food vendors. Now that we do have more local restaurants, the festivals have cut back on the number of food vendors they bring in because there are more local options.”

Lyn Menne, Decatur’s assistant city manager in charge of community and economic development, said different businesses can benefit, depending on the type of festival being held.

“Generally the restaurants do well during festivals and events and depending on the event the retailers also benefit,” Menne said.  “We look at festivals as a marketing opportunity to put thousands of potential customers in our commercial districts many of whom may never have been here before. The events aren’t specifically designed to generate more sales but are intended to build community, support and market the Decatur brand by showcasing our community as a safe, fun and inviting place to visit. We believe the real economic benefit is exposing our businesses to a wider customer base of first time visitors who will come back over and over again.”

Decatur Business Association President Tim Martin sees the festivals as a net gain for the city.

“I think as a whole Decatur does benefit any time we do have festivals, especially the retail sector, because that’s more people coming to shop in Decatur,” Martin said. “One of the main missions of the DBA is to bring people into Decatur to frequent all businesses.”

The Arts Festival takes place primarily in the Decatur Square. So where does that leave businesses farther away, like the ones in Oakhurst?

Marc Brennan, who has an ownership interest in Oakhurst restaurants Universal Joint and Steinbeck’s, said some of the businesses in Oakhurst sell food at the Square during the Arts Festival. He said it’s also important to take into account the time of year the Festivals are in town. The Arts Festival is always held on Memorial Day weekend, which is usually slower for restaurants because people leave for vacations. His restaurants see about two days’ worth of sales over three days, he said.

“It’s definitely busier,” Brennan said. “We don’t have to increase our staff. It’s busier than your average Saturday.”

The festivals can bring new faces into Decatur, but it can also make regular customers stay away, according to Bob Light, owner of Pastries A Go Go in Decatur.

“We get regulars from Virginia Highlands or wherever, they won’t come in,” Light said. “It’s a little bit of a negative. It’s not that noticeable really. Most people say they don’t like to get caught up in the crowds or whatever.”

He also says festival goers tend to take up more parking. That’s all minor, he noted. Light said even though some regulars decide to eat breakfast elsewhere, it’s not make or break.

“For me it’s no big deal,” he said.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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