Labor Day Weekend is the natural end point of the summer season. Just like the bookend weekend, Memorial Day, the entire oceanfront becomes an event venue. Tens of thousands of visitors flock into the resort district in a frenzied summer’s end celebration. The weekend’s anchor is a major ticketed concert event right on southern end of the beach. The massive temporary stage shows off a headliner act, and a fireworks display right on the ocean.
Being at the center of the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, right at 24th Street, the museum’s staff sees first hand all of the major summer events. Some years back, the big events were held only on the major weekends, like July 4th, and Labor Day. In today’s market place, the major events are coming almost every weekend. We always recognize the time of year by the sprawling event on our doorstep. Patriot Fest, Boardwalk Art Show, Pan Fest, Sand Stock, Latin Fest, Funk Fest, the impressive line up defines the rhythms of the foot traffic along the boardwalk.
The massive Labor Day weekend was preceded by the Funk Fest, another concert held beachside, with the massive temporary stage built oceanside at 23rd Street. This time the concert is free, and the crowds can be just as large as the ticketed headliners.
You might think all of this activity is a boom to a small museum seemingly centered in the action. At first glance, it sure seems like it would bring a lot of people through the gate. Take a longer look, though, and you’ll come to discern the large events have the opposite effect. We actually get less people through our admission gate. And this effects more just our little museum, it can reduce foot traffic for a lot of small businesses in the area.
Many of us grew up with the idea that the beach was the place to go to relax. After enjoying your vitamin D fix in the daytime, the evenings were spent strolling around, grabbing some dinner, visiting all the little souvenir shops, maybe stopping for ice cream. Insert the big event, and that becomes the primary reason you visit the oceanfront. Most of these events are self contained, having their own food vendors, their own souvenir stands, their own built in, pop-up tent distractions all designed to keep you happily entertained within the event’s perimeter.
That means you don’t stroll. You don’t hit the local restaurant, you don’t grab an hour to cool off inside a little museum. What you do is buy your ticket and go to the event. The free events mean you show up even earlier, bring a lot of your own stuff, and stake out your spot with your chairs and coolers.
The August Funk Fest is a great example of how an event can actually close our business down. The event fills the adjacent 24th Street Park and the beach directly in front of the Surf & Rescue Museum. The music may not officially begin until later afternoon or early evening, but the stage hands and band will be setting up long before go time. Sound checks start many hours ahead of performances. It’s not unusual for the sound levels coming from the park to be loud enough to make normal conversation in our building impossible.
What use to be a small afternoon event in the park, is now a hugely successful outdoor concert event. It’s easy to see that the event promoters and corporate sponsors are reaping bigger and bigger profits each year. Latin Fest in another example of a small event that has grown with the same verve. This is not a tide, however, that’s lifting all boats.
Our good friends who live in the Kempsville area offer an eye opening glimpse into the big event phenomenon.
“We don’t visit the oceanfront anymore. We only go down for the concerts a couple of times a year.”
I ask what they do when they arrive and the answer is a straight forward, ‘go to the event, silly.’ They have food and beer and it’s all right there. They just plant their chair and they’re good to go. In my mind, I naturally multiply this response by all the other area folks that have stopped visiting our beautiful oceanfront. It’s pretty easy to conclude why the museum’s visitation numbers may slump.
And so it continues. The formula at our beautiful beach is now centered, not on the beach, but on the events. The big events. A very large populace is being trained not to visit the oceanfront, but to instead attend an event. And it works. Whether we are a local driving in for the night, or a traveling tourist booking a hotel, more and more of us are not planning a trip to the beach, we’re buying tickets to a happening. From Something in the Water to April, to Neptune Fest at September’s end, to all the concerts in between, the events just get bigger and bigger.
And more and more visitors spend less time slowing down. Spend less time strolling around to enjoy some of the fun places right in the event’s shadow.
The promoters will keep the events coming. The revenue can be huge, so the stages will keep getting bigger.
‘Cause the show must go on.