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Fridays pack 'em in … but not everybody's happy

Record crowds are boon to business, but some still irked

Christopher Yecke of Waukesha gives his two-year-old son Ringo a better view of the band Serious Trouble during the Friday Night Live concert series in Waukesha on July 8, 2011.

Christopher Yecke of Waukesha gives his two-year-old son Ringo a better view of the band Serious Trouble during the Friday Night Live concert series in Waukesha on July 8, 2011. Photo By Scott Ash

Sept. 27, 2011

Waukesha's annual weekly music fest, Friday Night Live, comes to a close tomorrow.

And with the crowds it brought to downtown this summer, many businesses wished it would be every night.

"I'm going to hurt without it," said Kerry Mackay, owner of The Steaming Cup, located at 340 W. Main St. "I'm going to miss it. There's no denying that."

For many downtown businesses, Friday Night Live brought in revenue it would not have otherwise seen on 18 Fridays starting in early June.

Mackay said Fridays were his biggest source of revenue out of any day of the week this summer. While it usually is quiet in his shop at nights on other days, Fridays were different thanks to Friday Night Live.

"At night, the crowd picks up and people target us as a destination and we invite people to the party," Mackay said. "I don't want to take the credit, because the public is the reason for the success. Waukesha is really participating."

When compared to last year, Allô! Chocolat, located at 234 W. Main St., also saw significant gains.

"It's definitely between a 10 and 20 percent increase for our business comparing a Friday this year to last year," said Allô! Chocolat owner Roger Igielski, who also serves as president of the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, which operates Friday Night Live. "We're excited about that double digit increase. We are anticipating those folks will come back."

Mackay, whose coffee shop is home to one of the eight outdoor stages in downtown, added: "This year gave us a tremendous uplift. We got anywhere between 3 to 5,000 people on the streets. It started with a nice bang in the opener, and we all said it can't get better than this and then it got better and then we had to redefine what the best is. It's been a great year. The absolute best in the Friday Night Live history."

Tattoo shop closes

Not everyone shares these feelings. American Tattoo Studio, located at 366 W. Main St., hasn't enjoyed the same success.

Scott Verville, the owner of the tattoo shop, decided last month to shut down early on Friday nights.

"He's just given up," said Jeff Barta, owner of the Nice Ash Cigar Bar, which is located nearby in downtown. "It's too loud and disruptive."

Verville said because of the noise the bands create, the windows shake, which makes it impossible to do his work.

"I have to close down," Verville said. "I can't do business with the bands here and people stopped coming because there's no place to park.

"And in my business, you have to concentrate, because making a mistake isn't an option. The band is literally five feet from my front window."

He has called the police as a noise complaint, has voiced his concern to the Waukesha Business Improvement District, the WDBA and his local alderman but said no one cares about his opinion.

"It depends on whose [expletive] you kiss," he said. "It's a little clique of businesses down here and if you're not in that latte crowd, they don't care about you."

By closing his shop at 6 p.m. instead of the regularly-scheduled 8 p.m., he said he loses a few hundred dollars every week. Verville has run his tattoo shop for 32 years, 23 of which have been in that same location.

"It seems like every other week they are closing the streets for some reason or for some art fest," Verville said.

Opinions don't change

While Verville is upset about the Friday festivals, other businesses relish what Friday Night Live offers.

"One business owner commented that in the spring, she was losing sleep about how she was going to pay rent," Igielski said. "But once Friday Night Live started, she said her worries were over. A new business in downtown also told me after the first week of Friday Night Live that if you can bring me this amount of people, you can close the streets every night."

While others haven't gone as far as Verville, some would still like to see changes to Friday Night Live. Barta is one of them. For one, he didn't like the change that occurred before the season began. For the first time in its 10-year run, the streets on which bands were playing (Main, Bank, Broadway and Clinton) were closed. The Waukesha Police Department made this decision after the event continued to grow and to ensure people's safety after crowds were dripping into the street.

The streets were already closed toward the end of last season and there was already plenty of disagreements about this topic.

Street closures had impact

Barta was one of the individuals who felt closing the streets could have been avoided. After four months and a record turnout, does Barta feel the same way?

"My opinion is the same as it was before," he said.

He's not opposed to Friday Night Live, but would make some changes to the event. For example, he would not have it every Friday night and would move it to a different venue.

"I definitely saw an impact, but not a significant one because we are a bar and I can weather the impact better than some places," Barta said. "I will still get people to come in. But some places are not conducive to a street festival."

This is how Verville feels as well.

"It wouldn't be that bad if they'd do it once a month, but 18 is a little excessive," Verville said. "This is ridiculous. Like I said, if you're not in a little clique, they don't want you here. I'm sure they'd love to see tattooing gone."

Mackay, however, doesn't see it this way.

"If Friday Night Live doesn't affect your business in a positive way I can't understand it," Mackay said. "Even if they are just walking by, people are seeing your business. If you are a smart business person, you'll find a way to make it into an advantage."

Igielski said by closing the streets brings more families with strollers and coaster wagons as well as older adults with motorized vehicles and wheelchairs.

"You wouldn't have seen that without the street closures," Igielski said. "Those folks wouldn't be coming, so that decision has drawn in more people."

Barta said he understands how businesses like The Steaming Cup and Allô! Chocolat would thrive on Friday nights. But he said other businesses in downtown Waukesha should have their complaints be heard.

"For restaurants and hotels it's a major issue," Barta said. Survey not so clear

Earlier this summer a survey was sent to downtown stakeholders about the issue. While the BID's board of directors will not review the figures until November, the numbers show that most stakeholders want to see the streets remained closed.

Sixty-six people responded to the survey, including 13 building owners, 33 business owners, two churches or nonprofit organizations, five residents, six artists and seven additional individuals with unidentified affiliations. The survey included five questions about the event and how closing the streets affects business in that area downtown. Of the 66 people who responded, 59 percent agree that the streets should be closed during the music festival. Another 54 percent said closing streets during Friday Night Live contributes to the success of the businesses within the Waukesha BID.

Still, everyone wasn't in agreement - 34 percent said closing the streets makes the series less desirable to their customers. And in the main question of whether the streets should be closed during Friday Night Live, 33 percent said 'No.'

"I think moving forward the WDBA needs to sit down with the people who've expressed concern and come up with a compromise," Barta said. "[The survey] showed me what I thought it would. There was not an overwhelming majority. I hope the WDBA will listen to their neighbors."

If it doesn't, Verville said he will likely sell his tattoo shop and move out of the area.

"I'm just going to sell and get out of Waukesha," Verville said. "I've never caused anybody any problems, but nobody seems to give a [expletive] about a business like mine."

Surveys were passed out to the public the last two weeks and will be once again Friday night to get a better indication of what the public wants out of Friday Night Live. So far from the feedback, Mackay and Igielski said people enjoy the event but want it to grow even more. They said most would want it to be open longer and some said some want alcohol to be available on the streets. Igielski said the WDBA will review the results.

"It's becoming so popular, we need to strategize on what we want the event to become," Igielski said. "I personally feel like it is a great family event with no alcohol.

Igielski can't understand why some businesses can't take advantage of the big crowds that Friday Night Live draws.

"Places need to capitalize on the fact that thousands of people are in downtown," Igielski said. "It drew attention, so I love it when people come out of their stores and market their business.

"I don't apologize for bringing thousands of people downtown."

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