First Fridays on Main is coming back to downtown Mitchell this summer, but a Main Street business owner is not on board with the location of the event.
During Monday’s Mitchell City Council meeting, Keke Leiferman, owner of The Back 40 Tap house Grill, urged the council to reconsider the location of the summer events due to the negative impact she said it has on her restaurant and bar. Mitchell Main Street and Beyond is proposing to host the monthly events in the same location as previous years on Main Street, stretching from East Seventh Avenue to East Fifth Avenue.
After a heated discussion that revealed Leiferman’s frustration with Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, the Mitchell City Council tabled approving the location for this summer’s First Fridays on Main slated to take place May through September. The council will vote on the location during the March 15 meeting.
“I’ve had a lot of issues with the closure of Main Street in front of my business over the last two years. ... We are losing a large amount of money, not just a little bit,” Leiferman said, noting The Back 40 suffered a 35% loss in business during each First Fridays on Main event in 2019. “One is parking, two is closing the street when no one shows up. I don’t wish to lose any more money and am asking to keep the portion of Main Street in front of my business open.”
Considering the event eliminates Main Street parking for The Back 40, Leiferman said her customers are turned off from having to park further away and walk to her establishment.
Leiferman said she wouldn’t be as opposed to the closure of the portion of Main Street where her business is located in between East Fifth and Sixth avenues if the monthly events would attract a larger turnout. Since Leiferman opened The Back 40 roughly four years ago in downtown Mitchell, she noticed what she called a “significant drop” in attendance each summer during First Fridays on Main. Over the past two to three years, Leiferman said the dip in attendance has caused more loss in business.
The Back 40 was recently listed for sale at cost of just under $1.3 million. According to the listing, the beer and wine license is included in the sale.
“Last year, my street had nothing on it twice during the events when it was closed,” Leiferman said. “Their numbers have been down and should that event bring larger numbers, it could return to the same location in front of my business. There have been events where nothing is put on the street in front of me, and I’m directly affected by their event failing.”
Council member Susan Tjarks questioned whether gauging the attendance for First Fridays on Main during last year’s unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a fair assessment to make the claim that numbers have been way down. However, Leiferman said the drop in attendance was nearly as bad in the previous summer of 2019, pre-COVID-19.
“When you talk to the Scoreboard, they say that their numbers are the best, so I’m surprised you are having a loss,” Tjarks said. “I know that they were very well attended prior to the pandemic. We have to give them a chance to recover and let them build it back up.”
Leiferman’s request to shift the location also came as a shock to council member Marty Barington, who said he doesn’t understand how an event that brings more people to Main Street in front of The Back 40 hurts business.
“I’m shocked that Keke is asking for this, because I think it’s a great event for the community,” Barington said. “But I think we need to work with the business owner who is up here pleading for help. Either I’m on board to wait two weeks and wait to approve or approve on a monthly basis. I’m not going to support approving the event location for the whole year right now, even though I think this event is a great thing for our community.”
Proposal to shift location north
To compromise with the event setup, Leiferman proposed shifting the location north on Main Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, while leaving the portion of Main Street in front of The Back 40 open. In addition, she suggested using the Corn Palace Plaza for the events.
However, Dan Beukelman, Mitchell Main Street and Beyond Board president, pushed back on the request to shift the location, noting it could cause traffic issues and add challenges to event sponsorships and planned activities. Beukelman said the event typically draws around 1,000 people each first Friday of the month.
“North of Seventh Avenue gets complicated because you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to cross Seventh, so then you end up shutting down Seventh, which is a very more heavy traffic thoroughfare than say Sixth and Main,” Beukelman said, noting it would also take the location away from the Corn Palace and the public restrooms inside. “We’re looking forward to having a booming year this year."
In response to Leiferman’s claims that the event has caused a drop in business for nearby establishments, Beukelman referenced several food trucks selling out of their items during one of the First Fridays on Main last year. Beukelman added the Scoreboard -- a bar and restaurant located across the street from The Back 40 -- has also sent emails to Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, thanking the board for the business the event drives.
Leiferman, whose business is a member of Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, called out the food trucks as “direct competition with downtown local restaurants and your own members.”
Leiferman also noted she’s made multiple attempts in the past to work with Mitchell Main Street and Beyond on shifting the location in a way that opens Main Street in front of her business. However, she said there has been a history of communication issues.
“I have asked to be a part of planning the event with them, but they have not allowed me to do that. When I asked to meet with the board to give suggestions, I received a letter from Mrs. Beukelman stated ‘I could not meet with them because their agenda was too full’ and didn’t have time,” Leiferman said of the letter from Nikki Beukelman, the previous interim Mitchell Main Street and Beyond Director. “I’m trying to communicate and work with everyone, but it keeps going on deaf ears.”
Dan Beukelman disputed the claims that the organization did not attempt to communicate with her regarding the location concerns.
“We did meet with Mrs. Leiferman about her concerns of having the street closed, and we told her that if there was events where we could leave the street open that we would do that,” Beukelman said. “The board did deny that request because decisions and discussion had been made at that time. We have reached out several times, and she’s been invited her to promotion committee meetings where we plan those events and she’s not been able to attend.”