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Arts Fest is a 'Christmas in July' for Area Businesses

by on July 08, 2015 6:00 AM

This week, for the forty-ninth year in a row, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts will take over State College, bringing hundreds of artists and well over 100,000 visitors to town. 

Rick Bryant, executive director of the Arts Fest, says the festival originally began as a joint effort with Penn State as an “economic development engine” for downtown.

Almost half a century ago, State College was a little smaller than it is now. Bryant says a number of major chain retailers hadn’t yet come to town, there was less development, and that the economy slowed down dramatically over the summer – even more so than it does today.

The Arts Fest was envisioned, in part, as a way to bring more money into the local economy during the dog days of summer. So did the original festival organizers succeed in their ambitious mission?

“Today, it’s estimated that economic impact of the festival is in excess of $13 million per year,” Bryant says.

That $13 million figure is the total amount that flows into the area over the five days of the festival, and Bryant says it benefits all kinds of businesses: gas stations, hotels, restaurants, downtown shops and more all see a big boom. 

Corner Room general manager John Briggs says Arts Fest is “the busiest weekend of the year,” even when compared to football weekends. During a football weekend, at least the restaurant staff will see a lull during game time. During Arts Fests, Briggs says it’s just “a steady flow of people.”

“From a headcount standpoint, we do approximately three times the business we normally do,” Briggs says.

In fact, Briggs says the Corner Room specifically plans to hire people to make sure the popular eatery is ready for Arts Fest. After many Penn State students leave, the restaurant goes on a hiring spree in mid-May to make sure there are enough staffers to handle the Arts Fest madness.

Downtown Improvement District director George Arnold says the Arts Fest plays a vital role in the uniquely cyclical nature of the State College economy.

“There’s no doubt that when we have a mass exodus of some 42,000 students in the summer, that the town feels that,” Arnold says. “The end of May into June tends to be a slower period for many business, so to have something like this in early July is a great shot in the arm for the local economy.”

Joscelyne Hauserman, the marketing director for Appalachian Outdoors on Allen Street, says the festival generates a dramatic increase in foot traffic at the store – which in turn prompts higher-than-average sales.

Hauserman also says the festival gives the store “a great opportunity” to fulfill its mission of being a community event center. A number of local artists will display their nature-themed work in Appalachian Outdoors during Arts Fest.

Hauserman isn’t sure exactly how much more business the store sees each year, but she knows its a lot. In fact, store employees have even come up with a special name for the Arts Fest business boom.

“Behind the scenes, we’ve taken to calling it ‘the Christmas in July,’” Hauserman says.

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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