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Downtown Kenosha reaps benefits of festival weekend

Downtown Kenosha reaps benefits of festival weekend


Local business director Riki Tagliapietra realized the conditions were ripe for a perfect storm in downtown Kenosha.

But the event-packed weekend — led by the Tall Ships Festival — was even bigger than he imagined.

“We had a record-setting weekend, that’s for sure,” said Tagliapietra, director of marketing and operations at Grease & Honey Restaurant Family, which includes downtown businesses The Buzz Cafe and Sazzy B.

“We’ve been working really hard, everyone has been in downtown Kenosha, to make it a culinary and entertainment destination. It’s no longer just a stop between Milwaukee and Chicago.”

Thousands of local residents and out-of-town visitors showed up and, by all indications, spent plenty of money while doing so in what had to be one of the busiest, most successful weekends ever in downtown Kenosha.

The weekend offered near-perfect weather for a culmination of lakefront events in the Tall Ships of America Tall Ships Challenge, Pike River Rendezvous, HarborMarket and the Border War Beer Fest.

The Buzz Cafe served a steady stream of customers the entire weekend, while Sazzy B heated up at night with its combination of dining, drinks and live music.

Sazzy B served 165 people during Saturday night’s dinner crowd, according to Tagliapietra — an impressive number considering its 40-chair capacity.

“It was absolutely the busiest weekend we’ve ever had,” Tagliapietra said. “We were expecting it. There’s a reason (Tall Ships) is normally held in Chicago. It draws not just locally, but regionally as well.

“We were ready for an influx. I don’t think we were ready for quite that much though. It was a lot of people. We saw our locals and regulars and a lot of first-time visitors to downtown Kenosha. On top of a really busy weekend, it was great exposure.”

An estimated 30,000 people were expected for the Tall Ships Challenge.

Kris Kochman, city of Kenosha community relations liaison, said those figures and earnings from the weekend were still being calculated on Monday.

The festival kicked off on Thursday with a Parade of Sail and one of the biggest turnouts ever for the evening portion of Peanut Butter & Jam at Veterans Memorial Park.

“Even on Wednesday there was already a buzz as people started spotting ships on the lake,” Kochman said.

Downtown abuzz

“We figured certainly there were a good percentage of people who stayed downtown and spent money,” Kochman said. “Whether they were going out to a local restaurant or bar or buying gas, Kenosha felt a ripple effect of the festival in a positive way.”

Alexandria Robinson, executive director of Downtown Kenosha Inc., said her agency is able to track survey data and attendance through Kenosha County’s downtown Wi-Fi signal. She also monitored crowds first-hand walking through the downtown and interviewing local business owners.

“A city survey went out this morning, and we’ll do a secondary survey toward our businesses,” Robinson said. “We had places like Elsie Mae’s selling out their fresh-baked pies well before closing. We had full houses at Kaiser’s and Sazzy B. It was a record weekend of sales.”

Robinson said the downtown revitalization continues to surge with an initiative in offering family-friendly events and activities.

“We’re catering to families now more than ever,” Robinson said. “The Kenosha of yesteryear had a lot of focus on bar entertainment and that type of crowd.”

Lure of the tall ships

Kochman said visitors waited as long as 45 minutes to tour the tall ships.

The most popular vessel of the seven-ship fleet was the Nova Scotia, Canada-based Barque Picton Castle. The three-masted ship is famous for sailing the world and its unique crew, including a cat named Fiji.

The feline roamed downtown all weekend, making an appearance at Captain Mike’s 5118 Sixth Ave., late Sunday evening. The crew adopted the cat from an animal shelter in Suva, Fiji, in 2013.

Bluenose II, a Gaff Topsail Schooner from Nova Scotia, welcomed 4,000 people aboard its ship on Saturday and reported a similar figure on Sunday.

“We threw a party and people came,” Kochman said. “What more can you ask?”

Tall Ships Challenge tours the Great Lakes every three years. Kenosha is in line to host the event again in 2022.


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