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Decatur Celebration

Thousands of people attended Decatur Celebration on Sunday night to see headliner Daughtry, but most evidence of the crowd was gone from the area by Monday morning. 

DECATUR — Decatur’s downtown is now up and running again, only hours after the last of the Decatur Celebration visitors returned home.

“This is not as bad as I anticipated. I’m happily surprised,” said Jeff Kastl, a maintenance employee with the city of Decatur tasked with cleaning up Central Park following events. “Not as many lemon wedges as I expected.”

Roger Reed and Robert Ewald have worked before, during and after the Celebration, tending to the portable toilets. Monday morning, the men moved two toilets to the north side of Central Park for a public concert. The toilets had already been cleaned and prepared for the next event. 

“It is the same every year,” Reed said. “Cups, whiskey bottles, diapers.”

The statistics for the Celebration will not be available for several weeks, but Producer Lori Sturgill has seen a few successes from the event. “People liked the additional vendors,” she said.

As they have in the past, they headliner acts proved to be one of the biggest draws. Kastl attended the festival as a visitor on Friday evening to see country singer Gretchen Wilson. “I have found memories of the '90s,” he said. “That was my heyday.”

New to this year’s Celebration was the The Battle of Bands competition. “They were great success,” Sturgill said. “We discovered new bands for the future.”

Keyli Morganthaler, 21, was one of the Celebration visitors. “I came for the food,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of carnival food. There is a lot of vendors of things I wouldn’t normally see around Decatur.”

Morganthaler’s only complaint was the heat. “But that’s nothing they can do at the Celebration,” she said.

One of the first observations in studying the festival’s outcome is listening to what those involved have to say.

Boy Scout troops from around Decatur manned several parking lots surrounding the festival. Shane Brown, scoutmaster for Troop 104, believes attendance was down this year.

“It was mostly 75 percent full,” he said. “It was still successful fundraiser for us, but it’s not what it used be.”

Brown said Sunday was one of the better days for his lot on the southwest corner of the festival. He believes the Christian act Crowder helped bring crowds to that area.

“But we never did fill the lots,” Brown said. “In the past, we would send Scouts trying to find empty spots in the lots.”

Troop 43 in Mount Zion took care of cars in the Decatur Public Library’s parking lot. Scoutmaster John May said they had several spots to fill. “It was two-third full on Saturday,” he said.

Some of the shop downtown owners once relied on the annual festival for extra income. Since Celebration has made many modification, they have seen a drop in sales, they said.

Decatur Celebration: Despite heat, crowds fill downtown streets for annual festival

Kemper Willcut II, owner of Del’s Popcorn on Merchant Street, said his business saw the usual crowd. “We did about what we do on a normal week,” he said.

Merchant Street was located inside the Celebration fence, near the southwest entrance, but did not have any food or art vendors.

“At the end of Prairie Street and Merchant Street, there was a stage there, but there was nothing on Merchant Street,” Willcut said. “There was a great band. We listened to them all weekend. It was fun weekend for us.”

A handful of Merchant Street stores remained open during the festival, including Goodfellas Fine Cigars. Owner Nate Allen did not get the amount of business he said he had during past Celebrations. With the move of the wine and craft beer tent to the ADM lot at Water and William streets, he thinks his business during the festival dropped nearly 20 percent.

“When we had the wine and beer garden down here, we had a lot of people off of that. Everybody did,” Allen said the Merchant Street stores. “This year it is a walk-through. There was no incentive to come this way.”

Tasha Ballant, manager for the North Park Street Subway, said customers did visit the restaurant. “But it was mostly selling drinks and cookies,” she said.

The staff predicted they would not have many customers. “Most people are here for the fair food,” said the restaurant’s owner Gary Haines. “We get the concessionaires, because they are tired of eating the junk food. And then there’s always the parents that don’t want their kids eating that food.”

The restaurant staff has seen a positive effect after the fence was erected last year. “We don’t see as much crazy stuff,” Haines said.

Celebration organizers changed a few features for this year’s festival and studied what others were saying. Sturgill said the staff learned what worked and what didn’t.

“We will want to build on it for next year,” she said. “Others things will need to be tweaked.”

For example, signage or markings for the entrances/exits will need to be placed throughout the outside perimeter.

“This is a learning curve for the (visitors) as well as us,” Sturgill said.


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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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