After months of preparation Sunfest has come and gone, leaving Cowichan Lake businesses and community organizers to assess what worked and what didn’t, and how to prepare for next year’s festival.
“There were definitely ups and downs. We learned a lot,” said Graeme Service, speaking on behalf of the Lake Economic and Activity Development group, which organized a number of events and activities in Lake Cowichan from Friday to Sunday of the Sunfest weekend. “The whole build-up to the Sunfest week was we didn’t know what to expect. We were preparing for a massive undertaking of people. We’re hearing rumours we were over-prepared, which is a good thing because it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.”
LEAD hosted a beer garden, musical performances and vendors at Central Park; more music at Ts’uubaa-asatx Square (where the Lake Cowichan Farmers Market was located all three days); a children’s play area at Saywell Park; and more vendors at Saywell, too. LEAD volunteers also patrolled the streets to answer any visitor questions or provide directions, and there were information kiosks setup at four locations around town.
“The volunteers are amazing,” said Service. “The amount of people that came out to help with this event and were walking the streets was incredible. The whole town came up and supported it.”
Friday proved to be a slow day in terms of visitors to most local businesses and the various vendors and activities set up around town. However, Saturday and Sunday foot traffic reportedly improved.
Terri Ferris, who was coordinating the Lake Cowichan Farmers Market, said Saturday there was marked increase in customers and described it as a very successful. She also said the live music was a great attraction for the market.
Corrie Helliwell, owner of Copper Lane Fashion Boutique, said although this long weekend is always a busy one for her, with Sunfest nearby it was definitely busier. She advertised with Sunfest and handed out cards at Laketown Ranch. She was prepared for the additional business by spending more money on stock. “It’s lots of foot traffic. You’ve got to be ready for it,” she said. “Everyone who’s walked into my store has been super friendly, loves my store, loved the town, and I can’t wait to see them next year.”
Service said some businesses and the LEAD volunteers might have found Friday a bit slow was because the hot weather (with highs of 33 C) likely kept some Sunfesters from venturing down off the festival grounds.
He also acknowledged there was some trouble with parking downtown.
With the town’s permission, LEAD set up paid parking at Saywell Park, charging $20 for a full day of parking. This strategy created issues for surrounding businesses when visitors (particularly tubers) resorted to parking on streets in front of businesses to avoid the fee at Saywell. In an effort to offset this problem, Aaron Frisby, owner of The Tube Shack, purchased 10 Saywell parking spaces for all three days at a cost of $600.
“I wasn’t thinking I’d have that as an expense,” he said. “It was a horrible idea [to charge for parking]. People come tubing and come to Lake Cowichan because it’s pretty inexpensive and it’s a family thing.”
Frisby said he didn’t want to sound too negative, but does feel there are a lot of things that should have been done differently.
“The general idea should be, let’s support local businesses. So it doesn’t make sense to have a beer garden at Central Park when Jake’s At the Lake has got a beer garden with a band playing,” he said. “[It’s] taking business away from businesses that are there 12 months of the year.”
Service said the paid parking at Saywell is one area LEAD is going to revisit.
“Ideally when we do our recap, that’ a topic we’re going to take a look at and we’re going to invite all parties to come talk to us about it because we can only build and learn from what we’ve done,” he said.
A refrain coming from many business owners, community members and town officials was this is Sunfest’s first year at the Lake, which means it’s a test year. Service echoed this sentiment.
“Overall everyone has been incredibly positive on the fact that we were ready and we did our best,” he said.
“Let’s get together, figure it out, and make it better next time. It’s going to bring everyone closer together if we choose to take this learning experience and work together for the future.”