Chicago-area summer festivals cutting back

Leon Casetta of Skokie, Ill., bites into a barbecued turkey leg from Great Godfrey Daniels restaurant booth at the 16th annual Taste of Chicago festival which opened in Chicago's Grant Park Friday June 28, 1996. The festival runs through July 7. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

June 22, 2010 2:28:13 PM PDT
Chicago's decision to scrap the July 3 fireworks and replace them with smaller shows on the Fourth of July was as much about money as it was crowd control. But a brutal budget year for the city and many suburbs means many summer celebrations are changing.

For the first time the biggest food festival in Chicago, the Taste of Chicago, is closing early on its busiest day and will not have a fireworks show on July 3. And many restaurant owners are not happy since they believe they will lose business.

The folks at Robinson's Ribs are preparing to serve up 68,000 pounds of ribs at the upcoming Taste of Chicago. But owner Charlie Robinson is among the restaurant owners worried a scaled back Taste may sour sales.

"If we shut down early and we don't have early crowds of people coming down during the day, it's probably going to cut our sales in half or more than that for the third, it's a big impact," said Charlie Robinson, Robinson's Ribs.

Traditionally, July 3 has been the equivalent of "Black Friday" for Taste vendors. The evening fireworks show inspires city residents and suburbanites alike to come early, stay late and spend lots of money.

On July 3, sales of Robinson's Ribs are double what they are on other days. But this year the city canceled that night's fireworks and is closing Taste restaurants at 7 p.m. instead of the usual 9 o'clock.

"We're trying to do everything we can to manage the crowds the best way possible, make it safe and make it enjoyable. That's really behind a lot of the decisions we're making," said Megan McDonald, Mayor's Office of Special Events.

In the western suburbs, early preps are underway for the Taste of Lombard and Fourth of July fireworks. Both events were initially canceled. The village said it simply couldn't afford the more the $110,000 price tag for things like police and fire overtime. Residents were furious. They got together and decided to charge a $2 a head admission price.

In Bloomingdale, Family Fest and September Fest have been scrapped because of cost. In Carol Stream, private donors stepped in to save a summer concert series. And in Addison, private fundraising was not enough to save all ten concerts in the park, so the suburb will host only five.

The concern now: In the future will residents always have to cover the cost of extra summer fun?

"Hopefully this is a temporary issue and it might clear up. If not, the outpouring of support has been astronomical," said Tim Piper, Lombard Jaycees.

Taste of Lombard begins on July 1. The Taste of Chicago opens on Friday. A spokesperson for Chicago's food fest won't predict how the changes may impact attendance. She said the weather is often the biggest determining factor in sales.


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