This year, the Taste of Chicago won’t be half as long as it usually is.
Literally. It’s being cut down to ten days from five.
The mayor contends the timeframe does not determine the quality nor the experience of the event. As far as cut-backs go, this marks a significant one for the Taste. In 2009, the premises were gated, making patrons subject to searches. Attendance dropped from 3.5 million to 3.3 million. Last year, in 2010, the fireworks were omitted from the holiday-week event, bringing attendance down to an even smaller number: 2.9 million. Musical acts were smaller, and in an attempt to compensate for the lack of big-name musicians, 4 smaller musical festivals were folded into the Taste (Gospel Fest and Country Music Fest to name a couple). Attendance for the 2011 Taste was 2.35 million, the lowest number of visitors since 1986.
Sure, it is called the “Taste,” (‘ol Rahm’s been making quite a trend in literalism) and the food should be in the foreground, but without the added attraction of musical acts and fireworks, attendance has demonstrably dipped. They were welcome distractions, and, in a tough economic time, morale-boosting times to look forward to. The same year the fireworks were first discontinued, I spent my 4th of July celebrating in Dwight, Illinois. It’s barely on the map, quite a ways South of I-55. Small town America. Legitimately small. But, man, did they put up a fireworks display. Likely because the town recognized the importance of the holiday and the fireworks display. The year thereafter, in much the same fashion, I spent it in Morris, Illinois: larger a town, really, only in terms of population. Otherwise, it’s another farm community. But they didn’t skimp on the fireworks, and boy, did it draw a crowd. This day in age, not many things come without a ticket price, and some of the few things to look forward to are things like 4th of July fireworks displays. What’s next, the Thanskgiving Day Parade? The Magnificent Mile Tree-lighting Ceremony?
Folks can’t possibly spend all their time at the Taste eating.
There needs to be some activity, some distraction for them to enjoy their time, and to pass the minutes between hot dogs, rainbow cones, and turkey legs. If you want to make money, and keep them there as long as you’re able, give the patrons the opportunity to take their time. Otherwise, you may as well bill it an eating competition on the same level as “Man v. Food” host, Adam Richman. Can a person spend his 40 tickets and eat all his food before having to make it back to the Metra? Tune in to find out!
But they’ll have even less time – to do anything, much less eat – this coming year. Not only is the entire event being shortened by five days, but each day is being shortened by half-hour, shuttered early at 8:30PM. Again, the Mayor makes the claim that it gives police more time to clear the ground and usher patrons back to trains and buses. Now, if you’re an Average Joe (or Jill), and can’t leave the office until 5PM, how are you supposed to make the most of your time and experience the Taste without rushing? I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve heard some of the white-collar folk working nearby have relegated to take their lunch breaks at the Taste just so they still have a chance to visit, if only briefly.
We’ll already be losing patrons because they’ll go someplace else to see fireworks. We’ll lose more folks who came to enjoy the music, in addition to the food.
Sadly, though, the Taste will no longer have to compete with other festivals during the 4th of July holiday weekend. Not only is it being shortened, but it is being moved to mid-July. If there was even a small glimmer of hope for improving attendance, it surely will be lost without the surge in tourism that comes with that holiday.
Are we to believe that a five-day approach would make this seem like some limited-time-offer, while-supplies-last kind of event? I don’t think so. The only reason the Taste would draw larger daily numbers would be simply because the amount of people that used to come in 10 days now have to come within 5. And before 8:30PM.
This situation can turn one of two ways, either doubling the attendance, or decreasing it significantly when prospective attendees are discouraged by the thought of larger-than-usual crowds. Either way it goes, both are situations neither the city nor the vendors are prepared for, and the effect will be detrimental to the success of this and future Taste events.
I don’t think you can cram something like the Taste of Chicago into a five-day event, even as pared-down as it will be without the headliner musical acts, and the impressive fireworks display. You may as well just hand out cafeteria trays, have everyone get one big, honkin’ line, and have them visit each vendor, where their food will be served to them via an ice cream scoop of predetermined size.
With this, the city will be short-changing itself on revenue that could be made with five more days of the event, and the restaurants involved will surely feel the hit that comes with losing five days of some of the best advertising a business could buy. One of the best parts of this event is the community it builds within the city, uniting patrons with businesses they may never otherwise have tried, and maybe, just maybe making regular clients from it.
Think of it this way, Rahm. This city’s one big, giant store. We’ve plenty to sell.
Are you really going to go and put up a “Closed for Business” sign on the front window?
If you were a Taste of Chicago vendor, how would you react to the mayor’s changes? Do you think more people will come out since there’s less time to experience it? Or do you think the possibility of larger crowds discourage possible visitors from coming to begin with? Sound off on your thoughts and opinions (on the article of course…Chicago pizza is another topic for another day).