In just five years, Downtown at Sundown has taken off from an idea to an event that draws more than a thousand people every week, said Ashley Biggar, organizer of Downtown at Sundown and director of Downtown Brookings.

There are big changes on the horizon for the event, some brought about by its own success, she added.

“Looking forward, I really feel we’ve outgrown our space,” Biggar said, adding they are looking into changing the time and expanding into other nearby streets or moving to a new location altogether.

History

Downtown at Sundown has been on Thursday nights in the 300 block of Fifth Street in the downtown Brookings area, and runs from 5-9 p.m. for seven weeks in July and August. It centers around music, with live bands performing. There are also food vendors, merchandise vendors, and activities for kids and adults.

Admission to the event is free, but purchase is required for food.

The idea for Downtown at Sundown came from the 2013 Charrette survey, in which people expressed a desire for an event where community members and visitors could gather in a family-friendly atmosphere, Biggar said. 

She’s volunteered for the event all five years and was in charge of it in 2019. It started out as a project with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been transitioning to the Chamber of Commerce over the past year.

Back in 2015, average weekly attendance was 526 people with 712 being the highest weekly attendance. Organizers tallied a total of 3,682 attendees, Biggar said.

The event has grown all five years. They started out with just a bouncy house for the kids and added a kids activity each year. New games include corn hole, large letters for photo opportunities, chalk for artwork, and giant Jenga.

“We always try to keep things fresh,” Biggar said.

Community involvement has grown every year, too, with groups like Brookings County Youth Mentoring organizing the nonprofits that take over activities like face painting.

The 2019 season drew a total of 9,747 people with an average of 1,392 people weekly, for a 27% increase from the 2018 season, Biggar said.

“Our first night was our largest ever, so that was 2,066 people,” Biggar said.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, there’s something for everybody and I think it’s a great way to just get a feel for a different kind of music, too,” Biggar said.

Surfin’ Safari kicked off the season with its blend of The Beatles, Beach Boys and other golden oldies. The 2019 lineup flowed through musical tastes from country, rock, alternative/hard rock, reggae and calypso, and Americana folk-rock, with Just Duet Dueling Pianos, Apollo’s Beacon, Randy McAllister, Soca Jukebox, The People, and the Nathan Dean Band. Some, like Soca Jukebox and Nathan Dean Band were returnees, but Biggar says Downtown at Sundown likes bringing in new acts for people to hear.

Overall, Biggar said the season was a success.

“It was a great year. We had a really great turnout with attendance and that speaks volumes about our event,” she said.

New location

With 2019 done, Biggar has to look to the future and solve some problems, namely the growth of the event.

“It’s just really having outgrown that space,” she said. “I think why we don’t grow more is because sometimes people come by and it just looks crowded.”

She wants more room for vendors, booths and nonprofits but doesn’t have the space right now.

The Chamber is looking at all options, but is facing limitations in what it can do, Biggar said.

Organizers have considered extending Downtown at Sundown a block to the east, but they can’t impede postal workers from getting in and out of the post office parking lot. 

They’ve scouted some locations that would give them enough space, but they happen to be private property. They need some place that’s controlled by the city, she said.

The courthouse square would have green space and trees for shade, but streets in that block can’t be closed on weekdays due to the legal business conducted at the courthouse, Biggar said. The Farmers Market is an exception because it’s on a Saturday when the courthouse isn’t open.

“That’s part of the process of coming up with some locations,” Biggar said, adding no decisions have been made.

“Have a couple locations in mind but it’s the process of looking long-term what’s gonna be best,” Biggar said.

Time for opening acts

They are also considering changing the times. 

“Not a different date. We’ll keep it on Thursday,” she said firmly.

The date works for bands that are playing a weekend gig nearby; they can easily come to Brookings, then head out for their Friday or Saturday event, she said.

The opening acts get only 45 minutes to play at most, and sometimes just 15 minutes due to the headliner needed set-up time, so Biggar feels that’s unfair to the opening acts.

She also did some research in other towns and found their events did not have opening acts; Brookings is the only one that does.

“We love our local musicians, we just want to provide a different opportunity for them. … to really share their talents,” Biggar said, adding what form that takes in the future is to be determined.

As far as Downtown at Sundown goes, she’s toying with the idea of changing the start time to 5:30 p.m.

Tickets and sponsors

Now, admission is free and attendees purchase tickets for vendors’ booths.

“A lot of times, people come in and buy $20 worth of tickets; well then they’re trying to figure out how to use those last dollars,” Biggar said.

On her end, it takes manpower to sell those tickets and count them up. 

“I’m looking at each one of those aspects” to see what makes the most sense, Biggar promised.

She is looking for more sponsors, but once again, room is a factor, since each sponsor has a booth.

Headline sponsor “First Bank & Trust has been a huge supporter of this event from its beginning,” Biggar said. The headliner has a three-year contract, and the encore sponsors have weekly contracts.

Biggar wants to give more opportunities to the Brookings community to really contribute to this event to extent the longevity of it. 

Still looking

The Downtown Brookings Business District had a survey on its website to get feedback on the event. Biggar wants to know what people want so it’s an event the public will enjoy.

“So stay tuned. I’m working on stuff,” Biggar said.

For more information or to take part in Downtown at Sundown, contact Biggar at the Chamber of Commerce at 605-696-7561 or ashley@brookingschamber.org or 415 Eighth St. S. in Brookings.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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