DECATUR — Terri Chance kept seeing the comments on Facebook and began to worry: Were the fence and admission fee going to affect business at her Mr. Softee ice cream truck during the Decatur Celebration?
It turned out that answer was a resounding yes.
“It did affect business — it was way better,” said Chance, who has been bringing her Mr. Softee truck to the Celebration for three years. “We were pleasantly surprised."
Celebration producer Lori Sturgill said she wouldn’t have attendance numbers for last weekend’s three-day festival for a week or so, but said she liked what she saw.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as community support, but in the back of my mind, I was putting those detracting into the category of the vocal minority,” Sturgill said. “I knew there was an army of people in Decatur and Central Illinois who love this festival. I’m glad to see I wasn’t disappointed.”
It was that “vocal minority” that had Chance worried.
“I was reading a lot of posts on social media and we’d had the discussion on whether or not numbers would be down because of the entry fee,” Chance said. “We even did some radio spots beforehand. But, overall, we were happy with the results. It was a really wonderful Celebration.”
Chance’s radio commercials were in collaboration with fellow Decatur vendor Matt Hauersperger, who runs Pigout Concessions. Both agreed the biggest improvement for vendors this year was not having to police wristbands. Since 2010, wristbands weren’t required for entrance, but were needed to purchase food and drinks.
“That was a big relief,” Hauersperger said. “The first year we were down there, our girl at the window sold a taco salad and immediately there’s someone from the Celebration at the window telling us they didn’t have a wristband and if we did again, there would be problems. It was just a lot to do as a vendor to make sure everyone had the proper wristband.”
Sturgill said the main feedback she heard from vendors was that keeping outside food and drink out of the Celebration helped sales.
“We had vendors tell us they had record years. The mini donuts guy used those exact words,” Sturgill said. “What we heard from vendors was that the people here were ready to buy food and beverages because they weren’t here eating their own food and drinking their own drinks.”
Though Sturgill said an entrance would likely be added at the intersection or Merchant and Prairie Streets next year, she was happy with how the fencing worked in its Celebration debut.
“There was a learning curve there. There are areas we’re going to have to change around for next year,” Sturgill said. “But overall, it went up smoothly and the teams at the admission gates handled everything well.”
Representatives from the Decatur Police Department, which was on hand for security in and around the Celebration, did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday. The Decatur Fire Department reported just one call to the Celebration — a gas leak on Sunday after a woman trying to park her car rammed a gas meter. Fire crews monitored the air until Ameren Illinois crews arrived.
The Macon County Sheriff’s Department was in charge of security at the carnival entrance, where bags were checked and a metal detector wand was passed over entrants.
“We had no issues at all,” Sgt. Jim Hermann said. “People were actually receptive to it. It’s something that will probably be considered again in the future.”
Del’s Popcorn Shop, 142 N. Merchant St., was one of the downtown businesses that stayed open during the Celebration, offering cheap sodas and a sale on caramel apples. Owner Kemper Willcut II said he’s pleased with the results of the fence.
“It classed up the whole event and brought the right crowd of people down there,” Wilcutt said. “The Celebration is a business that needs to generate revenue. If you want name acts and to have a successful event like they had this weekend, it can’t be free.”
Willcut said a change in setup, with the wine and beer garden moving to a new location, helped Del’s sales.
“With the beer garden, you would have the same crowd there all three nights,” Willcut said. “This year there was a stage there and the crowd rotated quite a bit, which made it a busier year for us.”
Hauersperger, in his third year with a stand at the Celebration, also saw an increase in sales. But it was a hot new item, not location, that boosted his enterprise.
“Those taco fries … they were hard to keep up with,” Hauersperger said. “They got good reviews from the media and I heard they blew up on social media. We had to buy a second freezer on Saturday because we didn’t have the capacity to hold what we needed to get through the day.”