Pain or gain, the bar crawl cometh
The news of a River Falls Bar Crawl -- about to happen for the fourth year in a row -- climbed to a higher profile as people mentioned in recent public meetings that neither the city nor the chamber host, organize or sanction the event.
The event happens noon-7 p.m. Saturday, April 13, along Main Street. It involves about 15 downtown businesses including 12 bars.
Generally speaking, opponents say it encourages bad behavior, leaves behind litter and vomit and isn't the kind of image River Falls wants to project.
Proponents say it encourages future tourism, gives local businesses a big boost and is just a group of people having fun.
Invite goes viral
Nick Asper of St. Paul knows of River Falls from having attended the local university. The 25-year-old said he and a small group of friends started it casually.
"It got bigger and bigger," he said. "This year we're projecting 600 (people)."
Asper acknowledges the concerns and said he's been working to address the two main ones -- public safety and litter -- by meeting with the city, police and local businesses owners.
He'll donate about $500 in T-shirt proceeds to the local Relay for Life benefitting the American Cancer Society. He'll also pay local Boy Scouts $150 to clean the streets afterward.
With each T-shirt he distributes, Asper also issues a copy of new-this-year guidelines that basically say nobody is forced to drink or rewarded for excessive drinking; people can visit the bars on the map in any order; ID checks will be strictly enforced; to respect police officers on duty; to dispose of litter properly; and not to drink and drive.
Asper said he's met with each local business several times to prepare for this year since some were caught off guard by the volume of people last year.
He said the event undeniably brings people who spend money in bars, restaurants, convenience stores and hotels.
"My group of friends and I all go to the hotel," he said, and many stay with locals.
He agrees that River Falls' multiple establishments on Main Street makes it conducive to a great, walking bar crawl.
Participating in the 2013 River Falls event are Bo's 'N Mine, Boomers, Coach's, Corner Saloon, Emma's, Ground Zero, Junior's, Johnnie's, Lazy River, Mainstreeter, Mel's and Shooter's.
Asper said the South Fork Café, Domino's, Subway and Bubba's Fried Chicken will offer food specials. Bubba's will also provide extra trash cans.
Asked why he organizes the event, Asper says for the fun of it: "Every year I meet new people, not just on the day but as I'm selling T-shirts."
He said people come from out of town and state, and he has sold shirts to people ages 21 to 80 years.
He won't continue organizing the event forever but sees little difference between this private event and the city-organized ones that allow open alcohol in the street.
Dan Suffield, owner and operator at Shooter's Pub,said he's participated each year of the crawl.
"Our business doubled on that day -- it's a significant impact," he said about sales.
Suffield agrees that it probably wasn't the best year when the bar crawl coincided with UW-River Falls parents' weekend. He's heard some complaints about not enough bathrooms, but says that's an issue on any weekend.
Suffield has been in the recent meetings and also plans to add staff for the weekend and work the door himself.
"We'll also be quick to turn people away if they've been over served," he said.
The bar owner suggests that more trash cans on Main Street might help. It doesn't work well to empty them only on weekdays because weekend nights are when they fill quickly.
Dustin Hanson, general manager of the Riverview Hotel and Junior's Bar and Restaurant, calls it "fortunate" to be the crawl's beginning point.
"For us, it's been profitable and we've never really had an issue," Hanson said, adding that most guests bought beer, soda, appetizers and burgers, then left.
Hanson said Junior's added a bartender and door security staff for the day and will see how this year goes before deciding to participate in future years.
"Communication has been good this year and we hope the event goes off without a hitch," said Hanson.
Cedric Ellingson, owner of Bo's 'N Mine, says the bar crawl spiked food and drink sales by 30%. He said early in the day, he sold more drinks; later in the day, he sold more food.
He heard that someone had inadvertently announced the event during a radio show, which probably added to the crowd. Ellingson did not have problems but also has more space than most.
He said how the crawl is perceived depends on who is asked. The bars see hundreds of people and few problems, but the police, ambulance and hospital staffs see all of and only the worst-case scenarios.
City Administrator Scot Simpson said River Falls, realizing the event is going to happen, is working cooperatively and proactively to make it as safe as possible. He confirms the crawl planners have not asked for city assistance and that the main concerns are about public safety and the condition of downtown after the event.
"Obviously there's a certain amount of that activity that occurs every weekend," said Simpson, but last year's aftermath was worse than that.
He said the cost for adding city staff will not be substantial. The plan includes more and visible police officers. The administrator calls it helpful that involved businesses are adding extra staff.
Simpson did not have specific numbers relating to last year's hospital visits and ambulance calls but says emergency room visits were higher than normal. He explained that even a handful of additional ambulance runs would mean the service needs to add staff.
"We don't think public safety was compromised, but we want to be more proactive this year," he said.