The City of Beacon hosted the Cupcake Festival for the first time ever on May 6, 2017, making it possibly the biggest festival in the last few decades to be hosted in this city. So how was it for everyone? We collected feedback from various types of people to look at this from an economics point of view. It's an angle that may fit on the Freakonomics podcast, which studies the hidden side of everything.
Skin In The Game - Whose Skin, What Game?
When you're young and going to a spring or summertime festival, all you typically think about is who you're going with, when, where you're parking, and how much money you brought to spend on food, tickets, or games. When you're a little kid, you may think about what friends you're going with, but otherwise it's all about the sweets, face painting and bouncy houses. Your only skin in the game is to get sticky with different cupcake flavors.
Meanwhile, you're surrounded by businesses whose skin in the game is to create a shop, gallery or eatery that will delight you, and hopefully tempt you into buying something. Not to mention the vendors who secure permits and insurance to attend, then pack up their best selection to unpack and quickly display for you. This article looks at how those two goals work together, for the long run or more-immediate impacts, and how they intersected in Beacon on the day 10,000 people came to town looking to have a great time.
The Cupcake Festival Celebrates Its 6th Year With Move to Beacon
The Cupcake Festival just completed its sixth year of production by radio station K104.7, part of Pamal Broadcasting. Organizers went looking for a new location after presenting in Fishkill for years, and they wanted to keep a city feel with the party on a Main Street, in the middle of town. They approached the City of Beacon, and the Mayor said "yes" with the enthusiastic support of the Beacon Chamber of Commerce.
Was it a good choice? Says Chamber president Rick Brownell, and owner of Freedom Ford on Route 52: "The Cupcake Festival was a complete success. I took a few walks through the festival and found smiling faces, especially the children. Michele Williams (also on the Chamber board and owner of the boutique Style Storehouse) and I met with festival director Sam Favata of K104.7 a number of times, and he was very receptive to the requests we had. After the event, Mayor Casale told me that he didn't know a lot of people at the festival. That’s a good thing. That's our job at the Chamber - to drive new people to Beacon and let our business community do what they do best."
Sam from K104.7 explains the desire for the Main Street location: "As a live and local radio station, we have a strong sense of community and listener experience. We love the intimate setting that our Cupcake Festival has, as it not only showcases the best bakers and bakeries in the Hudson Valley, but the opportunity it creates to bring thousands of festivalgoers to Main Street in Beacon and its businesses. We are thrilled that we were able to showcase Main Street in Beacon and its storefronts as a destination in the Hudson Valley, and look forward to continuing to work with the City of Beacon on this event."
The Cupcake Festival was set up on Beacon's East End of town, which went against Beacon festival tradition. Usually, events are held on the West End, starting at Bank Square and ending somewhere in the middle, usually around the Yankee Clipper diner. In the case of the Halloween Parade, processions usually end at Echo, with families extending the parade themselves, around the corner past Beacon Falls Cafe to find more candy on the other side of that sharp turn in the road. Around the bend are shops, galleries and restaurants that many visitors have yet to stumble upon: Utensil, Waddle n Swaddle, Sukhothai Restaurant, BAU, Russell Cusick's gallery, Raddish, The Green Room, Abscission Barber Shop, and so many more. But do most people even know these storefronts exist, let alone frequent the businesses? Plus, did the storefronts want this kind of shutdown on Main Street in front of their stores? Sometimes businesses complain when festivals close Main Street.
Anne Perrone St. George, owner of The Chocolate Studio, has wanted events on the East End for years. "There have been no opportunities from events for us on the East End. Even the Spirit of Beacon Day Parade, which is held on the West End, doesn't allow for businesses to set up vendor tables. Only nonprofits can set up tables. That doesn't help us, and keeps the people [visiting] on that end of town for the day, leaving this end very dead. They do the Pumpkin Festival, the Corn and Strawberry Festivals, and beer events at Riverfront Park, and no one gets to the East End of Main Street and supports local businesses," she says.
Cupcakes: Not an Everyone Thing?
Days before the event, a man approached me to ask: "What is the deal with cupcakes? Are they a big deal?" Others who are either not fans of crowds, or not fans of cupcakes, also weighed in. Says Beacon resident Justin Riccobono: "I walked through the event and found it somewhat unappealing to me and very crowded. I'm not really that big a fan of cupcakes, but that's OK. It looked like many people enjoyed themselves."
The Curated Gift Shop, located in the new retail spaces at 1 East Main (down a little hill from Main Street), summed it up in this Instagram caption for the photo below: "I stamped this cuff [bracelet] before the @king_and_curated store was even open. Then I heard we were having the cupcake festival in Beacon this year. Goes to show you, if you build it... they will come."
Is The East End Of Beacon A Big Deal?
Yes. Over the 2016 holiday season, I received an email from a shop owner titled "The East End Is In Trouble." The email's author proceeded to ask for my advice, while sharing who they planned to connect with in hopes of increasing the number of people who actually walk down through the East End.
So many businesses on that strip are concerned. They have formed a coalition, called the Beacon East End Business Association, to connect and brainstorm ways to bring people down that way. After the abrupt closure of The Hop, foot traffic on the East End plummeted, which hurt several storefronts located on that end of town, according to several business owners.
Local artist Russell Cusick has been documenting what the East End looks like on different days. Although imagery of a rainy, quiet end of town is beautiful, it's hard on a business owner who is trying to bring exposure to their store. Pictured below are contrasting photos Russell has taken lately - both on rainy days (it also drizzled off and on, with a chill in the air, during the Cupcake Festival).
Russell has been vocal about his support of increasing exposure to the East End of Main Street. He is a member of the Beacon East End Business Association. "Being on the East End of Main Street, a lot of people don’t even know that we’re here. So just to get those numbers of people on the street here is important. I feel that the East End is really a special part of Main Street, and a special part of Beacon. Once people experience this part of Beacon, they will be back. So I think that’s good for local businesses on the East End."
Parking, Trains, Walking - What Was It Like?
As with any large event happening in one's own town, there were some Grumpy Cats expressing doubts about the event, concerns over parking, and the big question: Would it be good for business? At the end of the day, 10,000 people came to Beacon by train, foot, and car, according to Sam from K104.7. Somehow the parking was absorbed. A lot of people hit A Little Beacon Blog's Free Parking Guide page before coming, and even wrote into us asking for walking directions. Recalls Sam after the big day: "I spoke with people from as far as Brooklyn and New Jersey to Monticello, Pennsylvania and Connecticut!"
Says Beacon resident Heidi Harrison, who lives in a wooded area down Churchill Street (the street between the Howland Center and the old Matteawan Train Station that currently houses the new Gino's Italian Ice shop): "I was out of town for the festival, but I watched it through people’s photos in social media. My neighbors told me that people found their way to our area and parked in front of our driveways!”
Liz Ferrera, owner of reMADE on the West End of town near Bank Square, reported that a large SUV parked in front of her store for longer than the allowed two hours, leaving her forlorn when the carload of people did not pop into her shop to take a look around before driving away. The two-hour parking rule is known to be - for the most part - unenforced in Beacon, and is a common complaint among business owners. Fellow business owners sometimes park in front of shops for hours on end, as do residential tenants who live above the storefronts and park all day and night. We discovered this trend during our survey of businesses on Main Street when the topic of parking meters bubbled up. Most wanted enforcement of the two-hour parking rule to happen first, before investing in and installing parking meters.
Main Street isn't alone in its parking woes. It's a part of life on residential side streets like where I live. Surrounded by three churches, every Sunday, cars fill the street to go to church. Cars don't block us in, but backing out of the driveway is hard, and if we're expecting company, we put out our orange cones to reserve parking. Back where I come from in Ohio, when a spring festival comes to town or Fourth of July parades are hosted, parking gets very creative, strategic, and for locals, often involves parking in friends' driveways as favors. Some owners of private parking lots charge for spaces for the weekend, making extra cash during the festival.
Hopeful visitors wrote into A Little Beacon Blog for directions on walking from the train station to the festival. Key Food set up their Kettle Korn tent to catch the walkers headed to the festival with the irresistible smell of popcorn, and reported that the stand "did very well." Businesses from sewing store Beetle and Fred to Alps Chocolate to Mr. V's all reported watching crowds of people whooshing down Main Street, hoofing it on foot to get to the cupcakes as quickly as they could. Says the Alps manager, "I don't know what the rush was. There were plenty of cupcakes, right?"
How Many Cupcakes Sell At A Cupcake Festival?
Well... of the 70 vendors that participated in the festival, 18 of them were cupcake makers. K104.7 recommended that vendors bring at least 1,000 cupcakes, and to price them no less than $3, most likely as a way to create pricing fairness. As a cupcake festival vendor newbie, this recommendation was a bit unbelievable. After experiencing the festival, however, and the lines that did not quit, it was clear that cupcake lovers were there to get lots of what they wanted. Joe Condon, owner of Joe's Irish Pub, observed: "The woman who set up in front of my pub [must have] made a killing. She was sold out by 3:30 pm." The festival started at 1 pm and ended at 5 pm.
Jason Schuler, founder of Drink More Good, has made participating in markets all over the state his number one marketing strategy. He can do about eight markets a weekend with this team. Drink More Good's main storefront/kitchen is located closer to the middle of Main Street, not in the heart of the festival with all of the foot traffic, so how did they fare? "The Cupcake Festival was a huge success in my opinion. It brought an insane amount of people to Beacon, and I guarantee a good portion of those people will be back to explore the town at a later date. We saw an increase in new traffic that day, but also had a private event in the evening that we closed early for. The only thing I'll do different next year for the Cupcake Festival is to actually get a booth at the event and sell as a vendor!"
Was the Cupcake Festival a Milestone Day for Everyone?
While Beacon does have a milelong Main Street and nearby parks, hosting such an event in Beacon would have been unimaginable a decade or two ago. Joe Condon, a lifelong resident of Beacon and founder of Joe's Irish Pub, remembers how Beacon could not have held an event like this decades ago: "Eighteen years ago there was nothing down here. Nothing at all. Anything that brings customers into this town is great. I know the Mayor and the City Council are doing everything they can to improve things in this town, and I think it’s great. I hope they bring that back every year. I am in business to make money! Next year I may have live music outside of my pub.”
Some business owners like Kim King of Lauren and Riley, preferred the festival to be in a field. “I picture a festival to be more in a grassy area, like Memorial Park, or the waterfront, or where the Beacon Flea is in the Henry Street parking lot. I feel like every time we have a festival, it never brings in extra business for me. If you’re not food. I’d want it a block over from my store. I would rather have foot traffic from people going to or leaving a festival, headed to their cars, not the people funneled down the middle of the street.”
Meanwhile, Kim's neighbor, Brenda Haight Murnane of Beacon Bath and Bubble, had been one of first vocal skeptics of the festival. After the big day, she declared: "I'll eat my words now!" Brenda saw sales like she gets the day before Christmas. Which is a pretty big deal on a random day in May - that was rainy. "People were pleasant and happy to be in Beacon, many here for the first time. The foot traffic in here was awesome. I was freaking out because my daughter couldn’t be in to help me that day. My husband stood in."
Would all businesses do well during this kind of festival? Brenda shares her thoughts: "I think it depends on what kind of store you have. A lot of soap went out the door - bath bombs - that sort of thing. And soda - we sell vintage sodas as well. I had lots of lookers. Not everyone bought but they got to see the store which was great. Hopefully the people will come back to shop Main Street.”
Diva, the Woodman's sidekick on K104.7's morning show and pictured below, couldn't help but enjoy the day, and had time to appreciate the setting while surrounded by a backdrop of trees and mid-renovation old factory buildings. "I'm so glad this event was in Beacon! Beacon gets no love, and it is so nice here!"
Harry's Hot Sandwiches up the street also declared a great day: "Things were great for us. Without the festival I think it would have been a quiet day because of the cold and rainy weather." Others outside of his store observed that people walked into his eatery, looked around, walked back out to check out their sandwich options, and came back in to order up.
Further up the road at The Vault, owner Anthony DiSarro checked in the black: "The impact of the festival on business at The Vault was positive. We saw more families than usual, with parents eating and drinking, but children mostly 'cupcaked out.'" Later that night, The Vault would host an '80s and '90s Dance Party, so it was a full day of music for them. The vegetarian-friendly eatery, Raddish, which normally has quiet business as it's located in the blind spot of the turn, happily reported a very busy day.
During the Cupcake Festival, Anne of The Chocolate Studio put a table out on the sidewalk in front of her store to draw attention: " After a very long winter, I was happy to have a very good sales day during the Cupcake Festival. I was happy to have the Cupcake Festival on Main Street," she said.
Denise Gianna is the owner of Denise Gianna Designs, located next door to The Chocolate Studio, and sells repainted furniture and reclaimed designs, as well as her interior design services. How did she fare? “It was a typical touristy Saturday, I sold furniture and pillows on the day. I was happy the festival was here.”
Emily Burke, supplier of all your kitchen needs at Utensil, had a table outside on the sidewalk in front of her store, selling cupcake-making things. Her daughters had baked cupcakes the night before, and were handing them out. "My sales were just about the same as an average Saturday. That said, I do think many people 'discovered' the East End shops, though it's difficult to quantify if that actually turns into new customers. From a non-retailer perspective, the event was well-run, and people were respectful and having a good time."
PS: Pictured below are some tools to make cupcake-baking easy. Find them at Utensil: Sturdy paper cupcake holders that let you skip using a muffin tin! Just pop them on a baking sheet - standing alone - and then bake (I tried it). Finish up with icing-art by getting piping bags with different shaped tips for squiggle designs, dual colors, and more (these are like paint brushes for a baker).
Staphanie Carapola Jones, owner of The Blushery and a lifelong Beacon resident, chimed in from the services side of business. Stephanie runs a brow bar, offers laser hair removal, is a makeup artist, and sells the makeup in her store. "Everybody had to pass The Blushery to get to the festival, which started a few stores away from us, so it was great. I set up a table right outside my shop on the sidewalk and had a lot of people stop in to take my service menus [and] samples. I think the people had a destination in mind and it was for the cupcakes and a street fair, not necessarily shopping boutiques. But they got to see our little business district and will possibly make a future trip here to actually walk around and check out all the stores."
Stephanie heard a lot of commentary about Beacon while she was in her store on festival day: "So many people that stopped at my table or came in the shop were shocked to see what Beacon is now. They couldn't believe how nice it was and all the stores we have. I think we all are going to gain some new customers from this and word will travel about their experience. I walked the whole thing towards the end, because my daughter wanted to go in the bouncy house. I would love to have it back every year.”
Did the festival inconvenience Stephanie's customers? "I made sure to inform my customers about the event and logistics before they came in for appointments. They got there fine. Nobody complained to me when coming in the shop."
What about the new strip of retail shops at 1 East Main? We asked one of the latest newcomers, The Curated Gift Shop. Did people come down the hill from Main Street? "No," says The Curated Gift Shop, "but I was stuffing my face with cupcakes, so it was probably for the best."
A Little Beacon Blog's vendor table was located across from 1 East Main and across from the Roundhouse's vendor table showing off their cupcake skills (see The Blushery's photo above for a sample). We offered face-painting, whose proceeds would go to the Kindergarten Teams of Beacon's Elementary Schools.
Normally we hold these events in our storefront office at 291 Main Street, and we're lucky if we raise $15 on the day because face-paints are only $1 and it can be tough to attract people inside. During this festival, we had a solid line that we had never experienced before, and I was the only face-painter. Normally, my kids and their friends enjoy helping, but it became very clear very quickly that this was the big leagues and parents new to our business model didn't know what to make of the little painters. When I had to go judge the cupcakes, I needed to leave the table, and did not warn the line or have an official backup painter (Eeeks! Sorry everyone!). My friend jumped in reluctantly and ended up enjoying it once she got into the rhythm, but we are already planning ahead with new systems for next year! We raised $70 that day, which we are matching to send $140 to Glenham Elementary. Thank you everyone!
Most Importantly, Who Won The Cupcake Contest?
The Bourbon Bacon Cupcake! Baked and presented by Daniela Haugland. She won the $1,000 courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Galleria.
Second Place went to Dara Lippert with her Coconut Dream Cupcake. The People's Choice Award went to Melissa Torres for her complex Bailey's Brownie Cheesecake Cupcake.
Contestants and their cupcakes included:
- Arleen Harkins: Sweet Potato Caramel Delight
- Jamie Vislocky: Banana Cream Pie Cupcake
- Sarah Robinson: Chocolate Covered Cannoli Cupcake
- Kimberly Alford: Carrot Cheesecake Cinnamon Buttercream Cupcake
- Dina Marra: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
- Mark Avon: Chocolate Kumquat Strawberry Cupcake
Looking forward to next year!