I‘m farsighted. That means that I can read the words on a sign on the Interstatewhen I’m still half a mile away, but when I’m at the aXcan (sic) grill, without my glasses, I can’t read the menu that is sitting right in front of me. For nearsighted people it’s just the opposite.
So how are we to view MusicFest two weekends ago? It’s already in the rearview mirror, but how we evaluate the event may depend on whether we’re near- or farsighted.
If we’re nearsighted, we’ll look back at how it affected us on those three days. Residents will say they were irritated by the loud music, which didn’t end until 11:00 Saturday night, or they will recall enjoying the energy of the event — and the music. Merchants and restaurant owners will say it was a good or bad weekend depending on how much money they made. If their sales were down, they tend to complain that charging $5 at the gate discouraged potential customers from shopping. If sales were up, it was the best idea since Summerfest.
That’s if you’re nearsighted. The mantras are “What can you do for me today?” or “One day at a time” or “Carpe diem.”
Now if you’re farsighted, you’ll look at MusicFest differently. Farsighted people see what’s down the road more clearly than those who are nearsighted. Farsighted people will say, “You have to understand the purpose of MusicFest. Sure, it would have been nice if every business made money during the three-day event, but the reason the Chamber of Commerce contracted with Star Events to put on the extravaganza was to attract out-of-towners to our main business thoroughfare to let them see the unique mix of shops and restaurants that is causing people to say Forest Park is the new Andersonville or Wicker Park.
The concept is primarily not to make money during that weekend but to give people a taste of a product, a sample at the deli counter if you will, which will motivate them to return and buy, to change folks who didn’t know Forest Park had such a cool business district into regular, returning customers.
Businesses often use what some people call “losing leaders,” i.e. an item like a pint of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, sold at cost or below cost in the hopes of attracting business. I would call that farsighted thinking. In other words, some business folk are willing to absorb a short-term loss for the sake of a long-term gain.
So when merchants complain they lost business during the MusicFest weekend, I would say they’re being nearsighted. Nearsighted people see one part of reality more clearly than those of us who can’t read the fine print without glasses. They point to the people who wanted to go out to eat or buy a Swiss Army knife at the military store but were frustrated by the $5 admission charge. All along, it needs to be said, the Chamber stated that if you just wanted to dine out or shop, you wouldn’t be charged, but in practice that was not communicated well.
The visionaries among us, especially in the Chamber, need to take these observations from nearsighted folks seriously in order to make MusicFest a better event if we do it next year.
But the vision of farsighted leaders also must be understood. There’s a quote in one of my daily devotion books which goes, “All most of us see in a pile of rocks is a lot stones, but an architect can envision building a cathedral out of the same pile.”
Madison Street is what it is today because in the 1980s a few people saw “the new Wicker Park” in what at the time was a collection of empty storefronts and tired watering holes. So, for those residents who didn’t get to sleep till midnight during the MusicFest weekend, I ask you to chalk it up as a losing leader. The healthier our business district becomes, the more sales tax we will collect and then we might just have the resources to do the major infrastructure work required to mitigate our chronic flooding problem.
For those merchants whose sales took a beating those three days, I ask you to chalk it up as a losing leader. This is based on anecdotal evidence, but I often hear friends and relatives from out of town remark how cool our business district is when they first visit here. When you consider that a very large percentage, if not a majority, of the customers on Madison Street come from out of town, it’s worth it to lose money for three days with the expectation that it will pay off down the road.
Both nearsighted and farsighted people need glasses to correct their vision. Personally, my latest prescription was for bifocal lenses, meaning that the Interstate sign is getting a little fuzzy and the menu is getting even fuzzier.
Whether we won or lost because of the MusicFest weekend, let’s take a deep breath, put on our bifocals, make our own views known as we also try to see the meaning of what happened from the other guy’s point of view.
Clearly, there were some short term losers because of MusicFest.
Some neighbors complained about the music being too loud and continuing too late into the night. Some drivers were irritated by having to detour around the event and by not being able to find parking. And some merchants were angry because closing off Madison Street, together with the $5 being charged at the gate, kept customers away, significantly reducing their revenue during the three-day event. As I walked home Saturday evening, the restaurants I passed outside the gate were deserted.
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, of which I am a board member, needs to take this feedback seriously. If we do it again next year, for instance, we could have signage at each of the gates saying that if all you want to do is make a purchase at the Forest Park Emporium, you don’t have to pay.
The problem with that fix, of course, is when festival-goers see the sign, suddenly 500 people could spontaneously decide they were only there to have an ice cream cone at Brown Cow. So maybe the Chamber could work with the merchants to come up with a coupon to be given or emailed to regular customers which would give them a free pass … if all they wanted to do was shop.