Beer cups, Indiana borough and the experience economy

An Opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – For its preview of the sixth annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival earlier this month, The Indiana Gazette went with a conflict angle in the headline: “Dueling folk festivals scheduled this weekend for downtown,” it read.

The “duel” was between two local volunteer and non-profit groups that teamed on earlier festivals but split after last year’s NAFF. In the breach were financial and creative differences, duplicate claims to the name, fears of public confusion, possible litigation, etc.

Logo for Northern Appalachian Folk Festival Inc., sponsored by Jim Dougherty.

The epilog: Except for wet weather on Saturday, Sept. 8, peace and harmony reigned, according to organizers of the twinned events.

“Most people didn’t know the difference,” said Jim Dougherty, a former Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor who launched his brainchild in 2013.

Ditto for an organizer of the other festival, sponsored by Downtown Indiana Inc., the borough’s business-district interest group.

“It’s a small town,” Linda G. Mitchell, executive director of Downtown Indiana Inc., said during a Sept. 17 phone interview. “We all have to get along.”

Logo for Northern Appalachian Folk Festival sponsored by Downtown Indiana Inc.

Both organizers said their events tallied in the black, and they pledged a reprise for next year’s seventh edition.

 

MAYBE BALANCED BUDGETS make good bedfellows. But on one element, organizers have no dispute:

The borough’s open-container ordinance is a success in its first season.

A month after last year’s NAFF, the borough council voted 8-2 to adopt the measure to allow festival-goers to carry open containers of beer, wine and cider in clearly defined spaces where order and safety can be enforced.

Two council members who voted against the measure no longer serve on the board. But one said at the time that he voted against it because policing might be problematic.

This just in: Borough police say, no problem.

Policing and public safety during 2018’s “wet” event were no different than 2017’s “dry” one, according to borough police Lt. Justin Schawl.

“The Indiana Borough Police Department maintained a presence within and around both event areas but were not called to respond to any specific adverse incident,” Schawl wrote in a Sept. 17 email. “No arrests were reported within either event area.”

The borough now has a summer of beer cups under its belt, book-ended by the Westsylvania Jazz & Blues Festival around Memorial Day and the NAFF around Labor Day. A checklist documents the open-container policy as a winner:

  • Alcohol consumption was restricted to a relatively small, clearly defined commercial area.
  • Commercial establishments expressed no objections.
  • Police reported no enforcement problems.
  • Organizers scrubbed festival areas promptly.

 

THIS IS ALSO A WIN for what marketers call “the experience economy.” The phrase stems from a popular 1999 book that argued 21st century consumers prioritize doing things over owning things.

Thus, sipping a cold local microbrew from a plastic cup on a warm late-summer Friday night while dancing in the street to local faves The Clarks performing live on the main drag is a shared experience that shopping at Sears cannot match, experience-econ advocates argue. Coincidentally, the local Sears closed earlier this year.

The experience economy is essentially what local restaurant owner Tim McQuaide promoted while lobbying for open-container relaxation before council a year ago.

“They do it everywhere,” McQuaide said.  “We’re not asking to change the world … but to move forward.”

 

HOWEVER, THE ONLY EXPERIENCE some residents continue to see is inebriated Indiana University of Pennsylvania students.

“I see too many drunken kids just puking their guts out,” six-term Mayor George E. Hood said during a Sept. 17 phone interview.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania students gather on the 400 block of Fisher Avenue, Oct. 5, 2013, for a Homecoming party. Photo by Caitlin Birch.

Hood opposes the new open-container ordinance because of his experiences during such annual festivities as Homecoming and IUPatty’s, he said. The same vision was expressed in 2013 by a longtime resident of the 400 block of Fisher Avenue near the IUP campus.

“I’m living the nightmare,” resident Nancy Jones said of students urinating and vomiting in her front yard during Homecoming parties on her block that fall five years ago. “Every year our costs for this escalate. Residents are held prisoners in their homes. This has got to stop. I don’t want to let students take over the borough.”

Largely on that, Jones was elected president of borough council, twice.

“I agree with Nancy Jones,” said Mayor Hood. “Absolutely.”

 

BUT DOESN’T NAFF 2018 suggest that town-gown relations might benefit from the festival’s sober experience? The proportion of the Friday night crowd appearing college-age and carrying open containers was in the 30-40 percent range, according to on-the-spot estimates by a borough official and a citizen observer.

Could NAFF 2018 be a natural experiment of behavior modification involving well-behaved adults modeling for college kids some restraint and responsibility with alcohol in public places?

“I agree with that,” said Mayor Hood.

Indiana Mayor George E. Hood in his borough office, Jan. 26, 2016. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

But he added that availability, not responsibility, is the borough’s booze problem. Hood alluded to remarks addressed to Council earlier this month during debate over liquor licensing of borough restaurants. The remarks, by liquor-licensed restaurateur McQuaide, asserted that the town has more than triple the number of liquor licenses per capita recommended by the state Liquor Control Board.

Is that too many? If so, how does a community dry up the supply of alcohol without inviting criticism of prohibitionist impulses?

Other trends may be driving change, and possibly improvement. IUP last year began a review of Greek life on campus, in light of reported trouble here and elsewhere. This campus-based approach mimics similar efforts aimed at social fraternities nationwide. And in Indiana, Pa., Frat Row’s contributions to Mayor Hood’s dark visions are amply documented

 

THE OPEN-CONTAINER ORDINANCE’s first season suggests that the new law is working well here and that it might provide a useful model for how town-gown relations can improve.

Homecoming 2018 and IUPatty’s 2019 might offer test cases.

_______

David Loomis, Ph.D., retired associate professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye. Email doloomis@iup.edu

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. 

 

 

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One Response to Beer cups, Indiana borough and the experience economy

  1. D Lancaster says:

    To use the Open Container Ordinance a group has to apply with Indiana Borough and show that they have the proper licenses. Homecoming and IUPatties does not fall under the Open Container Ordinance. No one has applied for open containers during Homecoming 2018.

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