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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington’s Downtown Sundown concerts are designed to attract customers to downtown businesses. But is this concert series having it’s desired effect? One business owner says no.

The Downtown Sundown concert series started in 2006 as a way to help revitalize Downtown Wilmington.

“We’re providing quality family entertainment that attracts people downtown, particularly a demographic that is going to spend their discretionary income on entertainment and food and beverage,” said John Hinnant, executive director of Wilmington Downtown Inc., which sponsors the concert series.

At Kilwin’s Ice Cream on Market Street, lines can be up to an hour long on a Friday night during the summer.

“As soon as the concert lets out there’s a huge rush,” Kinney VanHecke of Kilwin’s said. “My arms are always sore from scooping, and there are always lots of different people coming in.”

A study paid for by WDI shows Kilwin’s is not alone. When the concert series started, the downtown area brought in more than $22 million during the summer. That figure nearly doubled to more than $44 million five years later.

But the series has not been a hit for all involved.

In an e-mail to Wilmington City Council, Pierre Penegre, the owner of Le Catalan, says the fact Downtown Sundown has food and drink vendors, it actually takes customers away from his restaurant.

“I cannot see any sense to the fact that my tax contribution is used to support an organization which is directly competing with my own business,” Penegre, who did not want to talk on camera, wrote.

WDI says it’s just business

“Having the food at the concerts is a part of responsible service,” Hinnant said. “We encourage downtown businesses to come through the concert and promote themselves and promote their businesses.”

Hinnant says because downtown sundown is held in a public park all vendors or restaurants are welcome to freely promote themselves at the event.

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17 Comments on "Restaurant owner says downtown concerts hurt, don’t help business"

2015 years 9 months ago

Love those bands! First great thing Wilmington has done since the Ice House was shut down. As for the restaurants, I spend my money but wisely. Dropping $60 (and up) for a dinner for 2 is not wise for my budget. I doubt very seriously that I would ever consider Le Catalan as an option. The owner needs to look for another scapegoat. Seems like WPD is raking in the bucks writing parking tickets. I know they’re happy.

Hometown Guest
2015 years 9 months ago

I’d wager the issue is the crowd that these concerts cater to and the type of meal the partygoers are looking for. I’ve been to these concerts and many others in the area. I like the idea of free concerts to get more locals to come out and see the downtown but i’m more than a little discouraged by the crowds that the city of wilmington is attracting. Same goes for the river and azalea festival. Looks like they are sacrificing quality for quantity which tends to always have an ultimately negative effect. The moment I realized that the food, “entertainment”, and crowds at river and azalea festival were lower than the average costco crowd (last year) on a weekend was the moment I decided to no longer attend the bigger festivals until Wilmington injects a little more class into it. The concerts aren’t completely there yet but only a handful are classy, I hate to think of what is on the schedule for next year. Just local DJs blaring their techno style beats as a poor excuse for a free “concert”. This type of free event is fun while it is classy but can quickly become a danger as I have seen in other cities in N.C. Look at chapel hills applechill and festifall as an example. Started out classy and quickly became increasingly less classy and then violent and the city had to shut it down. Now they are trying to start from scratch again.

2015 years 9 months ago

This is a pefect example of Kilwin’s adjusting the opportunity and marketing his product to concert goers.They, Kilwin’s saw this as an opportunity and seized the revenu.
La Catalan restarant has no-one to blame bit themselves,if they can not capture part of this crowd,this is their problem,not the PATRONS.

2015 years 9 months ago

Im not sure what his beef is. Lets be honest he’s not losing business contrary to what he thinks. 99% of the concert goers would never go to his restaurant anyway because they aren’t his type of clientele anyway. His resturant is a niche spot always has been and will be.

2015 years 9 months ago

And the music is ALWAYS rock and roll, blasted at ear-splitting volume.

Could we have something a little more refreshing than the tired, predictable sounds of local rock bands?

How about a chamber music group, or klezmer music (I heard there’s a group in town), or tango, or . . . anything except the same old rock and roll. Ugh!

2015 years 9 months ago

Only rock and roll? Madonna Nash (country), Yellow Dub-Marine (reggae), The Voltage Brothers (funk), Bibis Ellison (soul/folk) Sleeping Booty (rap/dance) – not to mention all the local bands who open for the headliners. Personally, I enjoy chamber music, classic trios and a symphony…but, seriously, that’s hardly the appropriate venue. Maybe you should come out and help us support an amphitheater in downtown Wilmington!

We’ve truly enjoyed the concert series, and we proudly support our local businesses – before and after the concerts – as do many, many others.

And, as they always say, “if it’s too loud, you’re too old.”

2015 years 9 months ago

That’s pretty angry thinking on the part of the restaurateur: I envision people who wouldn’t normally get to downtown seeing places they’d make a point to come back to downtown to visit. If I’m going to an outdoor performance of course I’m not going to go to a hoity toity (sp) restaurant that evening. But I may keep it in mind for a future date or business meeting or function. I can assure you I’ll remember the name of the restaurant belonging to the complainer, and it won’t be for good reasons. It’s a fantastic idea and I certainly hope things won’t change because of one (or perhaps a few) wet blankets.

2015 years 9 months ago

Mr. Penegre – just so you’ll know, the colorfully-dressed table of four you served last Friday night around 7pm – we ordered two bottles of wine, the Mediterranean Trio, escargot and a cheese plate- we stopped in your cafe BEFORE heading down to see the Yellow Dub-Marine performance at the Downtown Concert Series. As were two of the other tables seated in your dockside lounge – we saw those couples at the concert as well.

And, for the record, immediately following the downtown concert, six of us visited the Dock Street Oyster Bar -as we have for four of the last five Friday evenings- where we ran up a $165 bar tab and enjoyed just over $180 worth of apps, raw oysters and clams on the half shell. All before spending $24 a couple for our cab ride home.

I’m sorry if you feel like the downtown concert crowd isn’t moseying all the way down to your end of the Riverwalk to enjoy your food – shame, ’cause you should try advertising to the crowd like some of the other restaurants do. Honestly, I don’t see how you think warm beer and BBQ can be competing with your French fare menu.

Also, you may want to reconsider promoting the upcoming Riverfest on your business website. You’ve seen the dozens of food vendors and beer trucks that line up for that festival, correct?

You can’t have it both ways, sir.

2015 years 9 months ago

free concert is drawing business away from downtown restaurants, what will happen if a taxpayer funded ballpark opens?

Do the proponents really believe folks will sit in a ballpark; partake of hot dogs and other baseball type food products; and then head on out for dinner at a restaurant?

I guess they are willing to say they do believe a fairy tale if that is what it takes to get that over priced piece of real estate sold and city tax dollars spent to build another albatross.

Carol of Seattle
2015 years 9 months ago

When Seattle decided to open Safeco Field for the Mariners and Qwest field for the Seahawks, the downtown businesses, especially the Pioneer District were elated. When the list of inside vendors came out, downtown businesses were nervous to find out places going in like gourmet seafood houses, sushi bars and bar-b-que. In actuality, they had nothing to worry about. After paying a hunk of money for the tickets and seeing the prices of dining at the parks were so outrageous, most fans nibbled on park snacks and waited until after the games to get the real bite to eat. Business in the Pioneer District is booming. The real downside was the amount of trash and fights that increased in the neighborhood. Caused some ordinances to be put in place fining business owners for over-serving alcohol and for failure to provide adequate security to control noise and outbursts.

The biggest concern is the tax increase to pay for the new stadium. They tried a similar thing in Seattle when Safeco Field was built and the public fought it. Eventually private investors stepped forward to finance the build including Microsoft, Nintendo of America and Safeco. Get the big companies in town to pay the cost of building the stadium by promising to give them box seats for life…worked for us.

Guest 101
2015 years 9 months ago

They generally book pretty crappy bands so I rarely go. Seems like it’s always some hack tribute band?! If I want to hear that I can just put on the CD. That said I have always wondered why they chose to have vendors at these events if it is indeed meant to promote downtown spending???

I’m glad somebody finally spoke up.

2015 years 9 months ago

This and a lot of the other comments on here could be answered if the people asking them would use a little common sense. The bands are cover bands so that people can here the music they like live and not on CD and not to mention at an affordable price. I mean if you want the bands to be better possibly they could start charging $40 a person and get your good band there. I am there every week and the tourist and visitors to this area find out about the show they are envious that our city has something so cool. to me it is an awesome way for the family to go out and have some fun for free after a dinner down town which with out the music I never visit.

2015 years 9 months ago

…if Pierre Penegre is one of those who thinks the baseball stadium downtown will boost his business. The same principle will apply with a stadium as these concerts do. The people watching the game will most likely buy food and drinks at the game.

2015 years 9 months ago

This is a perfect example of why the sales tax revenue numbers of the NSS survey are so absurd.
By not using the s substitution theory, they assume all sales are new sales.
Lets say this Sharks move out due to the stadium being built. Their fans come to the Braves games. Is this a gain?
No it’s not – it’s called cannibalizing sales. The net affect is ZERO.
Its just one tragic flaw of the NSS survey.
This story points out exactly what could happen


2015 years 9 months ago

I love Le Catalan. It has the best chocolate mousse in town!

2015 years 9 months ago

but, there’s a big difference between Seattle and Wilmington. Seattle has the size and large corporations to cover the cost of building.

There’s also a big difference between a Class A Minor league baseball team and National Football League and Major League Baseball franchises. Don’t you think?

2015 years 9 months ago

Carol this concept works for MLB due to big crowds and stars but in the “Minor Leagues” not a viable solution.
We just do not have the population to pre-sell this way.


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