Street Fair launches annual food fight
Fargo's Downtown Street Fair is a grazer's paradise.
Fargo's Downtown Street Fair is a grazer's paradise. If you have a jones for cheese curds, funnel cake or a deep-fried candy bar, it's the place to be.
But with more choices than you can shake a cheesecake-on-a-stick at, the regular lunch crowd often passes up usual downtown food like submarine sandwiches and popcorn.
From a business standpoint, the best Eugene "Bud" Hansen, owner of Bud's Popcorn, can say is that it's "slow, but better than my dead days in here," at the normal location in the Black Building.
Hansen figures he sells $10 to $20 a day in popcorn during the Street Fair, against $50 to $55 a day normally.
Hansen's isn't the only Broadway business that comes out on the short end of competing with the Street Fair.
Nachhattar Gill, owner of Broadway Classic Subs, says the fair decreases his business by perhaps 50 percent.
"Even our regular customers, they don't come to the store because they don't like to eat inside," Gill says.
But Hansen says any loss in business is an investment in getting people introduced to downtown.
"The Downtown Community Partnership, we've been working together for a few years now," he says. "It's got to help the businesses. It picks up my slack time when I don't have anything coming in the shop." Hansen chases that outdoor business by moving his popcorn machine, which is mounted on a cart, on to Broadway.
In fact, Hansen says, the Street Fair has the potential to be even better next year, when there finally will be no street construction on Broadway. This will be the third summer in which blocked sections of the street have forced the fair to hopscotch into other areas, particularly to the south, across Main Avenue.
Randy Long, Downtown Community Partnership general manager, says next year, when there's no construction, booths may be slightly larger and the fair will continue to extend south of Main Avenue.
The fair brings unaccustomed competition to Bud's, which has sold popcorn from various locations on Broadway for more than two decades.
"I have a difficulty with the larger popcorn sales on the Street Fair," he says.
Other year-round downtown merchants are able to reap benefits from the fair by selling things people can't get outside.
Jim Lauerman says his downtown bar is helped because "you can smoke in here and you can drink beer in here. ... If it rains, they'll rush in; if it's hot, they'll rush in."
At the Old Broadway, manager Thad Thorsness says he loses some lunchtime business, "but you gain a lot through the whole day." With the streets thronged for the entire day and into the evening, there's enough traffic that Old Broadway sees heavier trade at normally lighter hours, he says.
Dave Anderson, executive director of the Downtown Community Partnership, says Broadway's regular merchants faced some concern earlier this year after the controversy over Metro Drug's sidewalk grilling raised questions about whether businesses could sell food from the sidewalks. But concerns about that haven't been major, he says; much of the cooking goes on in the centralized food court areas.
"It hasn't affected our planning for the street fair a heck of a lot. We kind of have the whole street to work with," Anderson says.
Anderson says that for downtown business people, like stockbrokers and accountants who don't depend so much on foot traffic, the Street Fair may be more of a distraction than a help.
But in the end, whether a business is located on Broadway year-round or not, it's all about foot traffic for most, Anderson says.
"The indoor places get an awful lot of the trade from the thousands of people that come down for the show," Anderson says.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541
If you go
- What: Fargo Downtown Street Fair 2004
- When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Along Broadway from Fourth Avenue North to Main Avenue. South of Main Avenue, the fair continues for one block along Seventh Street South, First Avenue South and Eighth Street South.
- Admission: Free
- Information: (701) 241-1570