Festival weekend big for local businesses
When those from outside of the Baldwin City community think of the Maple Leaf Festival, images of arts and craft booths lining the city’s brick streets under beautiful fall foliage probably come to mind.
Local business owners have a different vision. For them, the festival that annually draws 30,000 to 40,000 visitors to Baldwin City in the third full weekend of October is a busy and important time.
“Everybody will work that weekend,” said Frank Foye, owner of Santa Fe Market and BBC Restaurant on the northeast corners of U.S. Highway 56 and Sixth Street. “We enjoy it. I think everybody has a good time. There are a lot of smiles. It’s like a holiday.”
The bathrooms of the convenience store/restaurant are a big draw, especially when the parade ends just down Sixth Street to the south, he said. Bottled water is another attraction, but Foye said the restaurant does well throughout the weekend despite the food available at many festival booths.
The business used to profit from the festival by parking cars behind the store in an area that in now home to specialty fuel pumps and a carwash, Foye said.
While Foye knows from experience what to expect from the festival, Gabriel Dorsey, owner of Bulldog Games and Comics, 606 High St, will be getting his first taste of what throngs of people walking in front of his storefront will mean to his business. He does know the store that opened in July has a prime festival location on the section of High Street in which booths are set up on the street and on the sidewalk and has been warned to be prepared.
“People are telling me I can’t have enough help,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey is hopeful the business will benefit as the only downtown store with merchandise that specially appeals to young people.
“It would be nicer if we were closer to the carnival, but there is no bad location,” he said.
Both he and his wife’s families will be enlisted to handle the expected traffic crush, Dorsey said. That will help because in addition to offering some of his regular $1 used comics at half price inside the store, Dorsey plans to vend some of his comics, snacks and drinks on the sidewalk out front.
Baldwin City government gives control of the festival's sidewalk and street space to the Maple Leaf Festival Committee for the weekend. Booth committee chair Donna Curran said business owners were allowed to vend on sidewalks in front of their businesses as long as they sell goods normally offered in their stores and maintained the festival’s booth hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Festival traffic offers another potential boost for his new business, Dorsey said.
“I think it should build awareness we’re here,” he said. “Hopefully, they will see us and come back later.”
His neighbor, Rita McCall of Days of Old Antiques, 604 High St., said she has found that to be true. This is the first year she and her partner, Bill Snyder of Ottawa, have had their store in the recently renovated historic two-story brick building on the northwest corner of High and Sixth streets. But they were open for business in a temporary location last year at the site of the comic book store and McCall had her shop at 703 Seventh St. two years ago.
She did very well both years, despite racing to open the antique shop in time for the 2012 festival and moving into the temporary shop the week before the festival in 2013, she said. As of early September, she and Snyder hadn’t planned yet what special things they might do for the festival, but they would probably have a presence in front of the store, McCall said.
The festival is like a second Christmas season, and often plants a seed with visitors that grows into holiday sales, she said.
“We’ll have something,” McCall said of the store’s festival plans. “It’s a fun weekend. We seem to get a lot of Baker parents, who come back on later visits.”