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Corn Palace Festival location change sparks mixed reactions

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People take part in the Corn Palace Festival on a Saturday night along North Main Street in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

With the first run of the Corn Palace Festival’s new location in the books, mixed reactions have surfaced among city officials, Main Street businesses and carnival-goers.

The change — which moved the carnival from its previous location on Main Street between First Avenue and Seventh Avenue north to between Fifth Avenue and Ninth Avenue — facilitated a roughly $2,000 increase in carnival revenue to the city throughout the five-day festival, which began Wednesday and wrapped up Sunday evening.

That’s according to City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, who said the new festival layout was met with an overall positive tone from the majority of carnival-goers she spoke with during the event.

“Change can be hard to adjust to, but the numbers show it was a big improvement. I also heard a lot of positive feedback from people while I was at the carnival,” Ellwein said. “With how the change was set up, it allowed more people to experience the Corn Palace while enjoying the rides and festivities.”

Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction benefited from the festival change, Ellwein said. In 2018, there were 13,785 people who walked through the Corn Palace doors during the carnival. This year, the building welcomed 14,737 visitors, a 7 percent increase.

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According to Ellwein, the change also allowed GoldStar Amusements -- the carnival company which is contracted by the city to put on the fair rides and games -- to see an increase in revenue after the festival wrapped up Sunday evening.

Former Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt — who concluded his last day on the job Sunday — said he was glad there were improved financial results from the new layout. For Schmidt, that was one of the primary goals of implementing the location change, along with providing more space for additional rides compared to what the previous year’s setup allowed.

“GoldStar reported to me that they made roughly $11,000 to $12,000 more than they did last year,” Schmidt said, noting those numbers were the most sales the amusement company made since 2016. “We had been seeing a downhill trend in the amount of money we as the city and GoldStar brought in for the last 9 to 10 years. And when you see that downhill trend, you need to make some business moves to change that.”

With the addition of six new fair rides at this year’s carnival, Schmidt said the number of rides totaled 22 this year, compared to last year’s 16.

Creating a more intimate family experience in a closer proximity to Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction was another goal Schmidt was hoping to achieve with the carnival layout change.

“We took into consideration on the amount of parents saying it was more difficult to keep their family together, as their kids could be scattered further with the old setup,” Schmidt said. “There was also some criticism from people asking GoldStar to move a game or a ride, so the new location reduced that criticism.”

Although Schmidt is overall pleased with the trial run, he said there are some areas that the city could look to improve with future festivals, specifically to improve foot traffic for vendors near the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street.

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson spent four of the five nights enjoying and monitoring the festivities, looking to get a feel on the consensus of carnival-goers, which he said was received with an overall positive tone. Everson said one area that could use improvement is parking. The city opened up the previously closed Fifth Avenue and Main Street lot midway through the festival,

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“We heard some good suggestions from the Featherstons (the co-owners of GoldStar Amusements) in regards to parking, which they pitched the idea to open up the Mitchell Area Community Theatre parking lot for additional parking space,” Everson said. “I heard a lot of good things from people attending the carnival, and I noticed a lot of families with younger kids were particularly pleased.”

Business reaction

While city officials are overall pleased with the location change, there is a stark contrast among some Main Street businesses, who said they suffered negative impacts with the new layout.

Scott Schutz, who manages the Graham Tire and Auto Service business, said the location change had a negative impact on his business at 720 N. Main St., with the carnival moving directly in front of the shop.

“It really hurt our business, and car count numbers were way down last week,” Schutz said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “Just being able to get vehicles in and out of here was something people didn’t even want to hassle with.”

In year’s prior, customers had full access to the several entrances at Graham's location, Schutz said. With Dakotafest taking place last week, Schutz said the three-day farm show generally helps Graham Tire see a steady spike in business. However, the lack of accessibility to customer parking put a significant damper on all of that.

“We had basically no foot traffic from Dakotafest this year, and with kids running around in the parking lot and in front of the business made for a lot of safety concerns,” Schutz said.

Schutz said he hopes the new layout will switch back to the old format. Looking toward next year’s Corn Palace Festival and beyond, city officials said will review all of the feedback from Main Street businesses, the vendors, GoldStar Amusement and the attendees.

“The contract we approved states the move as being a one-year trial, and we will take in all of the feedback and look to make a decision for future festivals,” Ellwein said. “But all in all, the feedback has been pretty good.”

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Roughly four blocks south of where the Corn Palace Festival began was Jason Bates, owner of Big Dummies Bar and Grill, who said he experienced much less foot traffic during carnival week.

“I took a pretty big hit with the move,” Bates said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “Although I own a bar, I would serve water and food to families and kids who wanted to take a quick break from the carnival action, but I couldn’t do that this year.”

In addition, Bates said a common complaint from carnival attendees was the lack of shade the new location caused. He said the older demographic of carnival-goers were unable to sit down and cool off in the shade, while the festivities took place.

While Bates said he suffered a loss in business with the location change, he was grateful for Schmidt giving him the opportunity to sell beer at the Freedom Stage next to the Corn Palace.

“I thought that was a really nice gesture from Schmidt, but I think the city needs to realize that there are plenty of Main Street businesses that are located further down from the Corn Palace,” Bates said.

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People take part in the Corn Palace Festival on Saturday night along North Main Street in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Related Topics: EVENTSCORN PALACEFESTIVALBOB EVERSONTOURISM
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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