CEDAR RAPIDS — Officials are calling the second attempt at Market After Dark a success after thousands flocked to the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids Saturday night for an evening of music, food, beverages and shopping at dozens of a vendor booths.
On Tuesday, officials from the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, which put on the event, released an official attendance estimate of 27,000 people, which is down from the first year. The estimate is based on a formula of spot counts at certain locations, parking numbers and beer sales, said Melissa McCarville, spokeswoman for the Economic Alliance.
“I’d definitely call this a successful event,” McCarville said. “We’ve already had people asking us why we don’t do more of these and are we doing it next year?”
McCarville expects another Market After Dark next year, but holding more than one a year is doubtful, she said.
“At this time we still need to re-evaluate,” McCarville said. “Putting on an event like this really does take a village ... I just don’t think we have the capacity to do more than one a year, but we are not ruling it out and it’s something we will discuss.”
While the numbers are down from the first year, organizers said they are happy with the turnout and noted the timing put Market After Dark against other activities, including the Back Porch Revival at Kinnick Stadium. The concert, featuring Blake Shelton and other country music acts, drew 50,000 people.
Popularity of the first Market After Dark a year ago nearly torpedoed the experiment, so a few thousand less people may not be a bad thing. About 34,000 people showed up last year — 20,000 more than a typical morning farmers market — causing overwhelmed vendors to sell out quickly and marketgoers complaining it was too crowded with extremely long lines and insufficient lighting.
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The more spread out footprint this year — 19 blocks compared to seven — allowed people more breathing room, making the event more enjoyable, many said.
“I think everyone was pretty happy compared to last year,” said Mayor Ron Corbett, who did not attend but received feedback. “There were tight quarters last year. This year we had more room to maneuver. That was probably the biggest lesson learned.”
Corbett said more frequent evening markets — or something similar — could be a good thing. Perhaps a Market After Dark could be scheduled in the beginning of the season and another at the end, he said. One thing is clear, though, last weekend was not the last Market After Dark.
“Of course there will be another,” Corbett said.
He said the evening market has helped bring a different crowd downtown, exposing them to changes in the past few years, such as a redesigned Greene Square, new library, new businesses and updated river walk.
Some downtown businesses were pleased as well, including at Bricks Bar and Grill, 320 Second Ave. SE, where staff said they saw new customers in addition to regulars.
Businesses were incorporated into the festivities this year easing tensions of vendors profiting at their expense. For example, marketgoers could dip into a bar or restaurant, buy a beer in a plastic cup and take it with them as they explored the market.
“It went really well,” said Kimmy Riemer, a bartender at Bricks. “It was super, super busy. It was very smooth outside and I know we had a lot in sales inside.”
Whereas a typical Saturday night has a dinner rush, a lull and then a late night bar crowd until 1 a.m. or so, last Saturday stayed steady all the way through, she said. She estimated Bricks did twice the business as usual.
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Meanwhile, poor behavior that upended the St. Jude Sweet Corn Festival two weeks earlier wasn’t a factor at Market After Dark. Police shut down the Sweet Corn Festival early and made several arrests after a fight involving 70-some kids.
“This says a lot about the citizens of Cedar Rapids and visitors who attended to have an event with 30,000 people over 19 blocks and not have any issues,” said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids police spokesman. “No disturbances and no arrests.”
The only arrests recorded downtown that night actually occurred on Sunday at 1:20 a.m. at 200 Third Street SE. Buelow said an officer on foot patrol spotted a fight in progress prompting charges of disorderly conduct for two men. That was well after the market, which ran from 6:30-11 p.m., he said.