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Progress 2007 Development & finance

West Lawrence retailers welcome return of event

April 21, 2007

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Christian Walker has witnessed how the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival boosts business.

The owner of Glass House Liquor, 2301 Wakarusa Drive, drove up to his store one morning during the 2006 festival and found more than 50 patrons waiting for him to open the doors - and it was only 8:30 a.m.

The group of customers played music on a portable stereo and tossed Frisbees. A game of Hacky Sack was under way. And they amiably waited outside until Walker and his staff opened the store at 9 a.m.

It's been the best of both worlds for Walker and some other Lawrence retailers - big revenues and friendly, even polite festival customers.

"It's huge business for us," Walker says. "In that week, we'd do the same amount of business for the entire month of January."

Likewise, Bishaw Sherchan, whose Miller Mart is next door to Glass House Liquor, benefits from festival crowds.

"They come in for mostly papers, pop and water. A lot of ice," he said.

The Miller Mart sells gasoline as well.

"We must do at least double the business," Sherchan said. "It's a very busy period for us, and nice to tell visitors about Lawrence."

Sherchan found customers friendly and manageable.

"It's amazing," he says. "We would have 50 to 70 people in the store, with about 10 in line, but everybody was very nice. We didn't have security problems; we didn't even have a (gasoline) drive-off."

Walker also didn't have any security issues. He had several staffers on hand in anticipation of crowds during the 2005 festival, but the following year he scheduled just enough employees to help customers at a brisk pace.

What did deter business for Walker, however, was a visit by Alcohol and Beverage Control.

"They were outside my store, checking IDs for four hours one day last year," Walker said. "Nobody could leave without showing ID. And then the line started backing up into my store, and people couldn't leave. Customers got very agitated."

Walker said that his staff did not sell liquor to any minors and that he has never received a citation.

"It was definitely a deterrent for business, and a lot of people were upset about security issues at the park in general," he said.

Walker said many customers came in complaining about heavy-handed security at the festival and that he initially feared that the 2007 event wouldn't draw the same attendees.

But he cited changes announced by organizer Brett Mosiman, including the removal of hidden "night cameras," and also new, big-name bands added to the lineup as reasons festival attendees might give Lawrence another chance.

"I was actually thinking that business would be gone, and I was preparing for it, and now I'm feeling more confident going into it this year," Walker said.

Sherchan, too, hopes the festival will continue.

"I don't know much about the social impact, the overall impact, the festival has for Lawrence," he says. "But yes, for retailers, it's been a good thing for us."

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