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Main Street business owner addresses issues with Corn Palace Festival, downtown events

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

A Main Street business owner is calling on event coordinators to develop a closer working relationship during popular events that are held in downtown Mitchell.

During Tuesday’s Corn Palace Entertainment Board meeting, Keke Leiferman, owner of The Back 40 Taphouse Grill, addressed several issues she has experienced with large events that are hosted in front of Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction.

Leiferman pointed to downtown street closures and specific events as reocurring issues she has come up against in the past three years she has done business out of her 511 N. Main St. bar and restaurant.

“When we do have an event down here and someone closes a street down, I’m not made aware of it. What’s going on outside my front door affects me deeply,” Leiferman said. “I think we should all get together and get a system going. We can be right at each other’s doors.”

The Corn Palace Festival has also caused some headaches for Leiferman’s business, as she said the nearby carnival rides and vendors put a dent in profits.

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“The Corn Palace Festival is a concern for me. We close down on a Tuesday for a full day, and that is a full day that I don’t have business at all,” Leiferman said. “People see the street closed, rides going on, and I don’t have anyone come in at all. Those are income issues for me.”

With the economic impacts COVID-19 has had on her business, Leiferman said experiencing more profit loss will make for more challenges.

As a potential resolution, Leiferman suggested stronger communication with event organizers prior to the events being held in downtown Mitchell.

“I would love to be more involved with events, and I love being a part of the process,” Leiferman said. “Let's get our marketing more in line with one another.”

Jen Johnston, director of tourism and marketing with the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, encouraged Leiferman to read through the City Council agenda, noting street closures are included in the agenda packets that can be found on the city of MItchell’s website.

Corn Palace visitor numbers

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus has impacted the visitor numbers at the Corn Palace this summer. However, Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway said more visitors are lessening the decrease in foot traffic as the summer moves on.

According to Greenway, from May 18 to Tuesday (July 7), the Corn Palace is down 41% compared to the same time frame last year.

“We started out being down about 58%, and that decreased to 48%, and last week we were down to 32%, so we are gaining,” Greenway said. “We had two 2,000-person days over the weekend last Friday and Sunday.”

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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