Cities Can Have Pumpkin Cake & Eat It, Too: Fall Festivals Profit Guide

Fall festivals that attract thousnds to see things like these giant pumpkins in Half Moon Bay, Calif.,, can drive revenue for cities.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Fall festivals, pumpkin jams, autumn fests and Halloween parties are great ways for cities to perk up local economies and drive revenues to city coffers.

When visitors sample pies at the Versailles Old Tyme Apple Festival in Versailles, Mo., eat pumpkin cake at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival in California or don Halloween costumes during Haunted Happenings in Salem, Mass., they’re helping cities drive revenues through these popular fall festivals.

Autumnal harvest festivals are a mainstay in American culture. They bring communities together to sample the bounty of nearby farms, participate in long longstanding traditions and take in live music. Think two-plus months of apple picking, pumpkin patches and tractor-drawn hayrides with a fiery, foliage-laden backdrop.

On weekends, in town squares and on farmland, there’s a cornucopia of fall festivals that include plenty of vendors and entertainment. Halloween typically signifies the end of the season, so holding a public Halloween party can be a success.

To keep fall festivals running however, they have to be profitable. Here are six ways for cities to profit from harvest fests.

# 1 Vending Fees

A revenue stream for fall (and all) festivals flows from vendors who sell handmade goods, musical instruments, original artwork, food and more. Vendors pay hundreds of dollars for booth space and some are required to pay a percentage of sales, too.

For instance, hundreds of arts-and-crafts vendors pay $300 each for a 10×10 space at the three-day Warrens Cranberry Festival in Warrens, Wisc. “Cranfest,” as it’s known in Wisconsin, will celebrate its 46th year in September 2018.

#2 Merchandise

When a band sells a CD or T-shirt at a festival, the host often takes a small percentage of that sale, too. Event staff sells the items and it’s a cost of doing business that the acts should factor into their pricing.

Good events sell their own merch, too: Each year there’s a logo contest for the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest held annually on Columbus Day weekend in Damariscotta, Maine. The logo is silkscreened onto T-shirts and available for purchase.

#3 Fall Festivals Sponsorships

Small and large sponsors often subsidize a festival, especially when poor weather affects audience numbers. It’s important to have a development team that’s consistent and professional reaching out to potential and returning sponsors all year.

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, held each October in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho, has a variety of sponsor levels from which to choose. D.L. Evans Bank and the Harper Livestock Company are Premier sponsors. Other levels include Patrons, Benefactors, Supporters and Sheepdog Sponsors.

#4 Parking

Parking lots, city garages and metered spaces are often at capacity at urban festivals, so much so that Austin, Texas’ Pecan Street Festival has partnered with the Spot Hero car parking app, so attendees can find a space without hassle.

Organizers of the Fisherman’s Fall Festival in Seattle have created a handy map of parking lots in surrounding neighborhoods.

#5 Tickets

While admission to some autumn festivals is free, others charge a fee at the gate. Additionally, there are special events such as Chocolate after Dark, a signature event at the Kansas Chocolate Festival, held at the end of September in Topeka. The $55 per person VIP affair is held in a stately mansion and features chocolate and wine pairings, chocolate-infused hors d’oeuvres and live jazz.

#6 Alcohol Sales

Festivals can profit from responsible drinkers through individual drink sales, and sponsorship from breweries, wineries distilleries and cider makers. Sales often outweigh the cost of liquor liability insurance.

Lees Summit Chamber Oktoberfest offers a variety of national and local beer and cider brands. The free event, which attracts more than 70,000 people to downtown Lees Summit, Mo., features German meals, beer and brat tents, a biergarten, live entertainment, German dancers and more.

Why Cities Should Invest in Festivals

 

About the author

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Columnist Larry Claflin, Jr., is a freelance writer based in New England and co-founder and former executive director of the non-profit Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. He is fascinated with the mechanics of city government and cultural development in cities.