WE Fest provides steady beat to businesses
DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – WE Fest’s main stage will start rocking tonight, but Detroit Lakes businesses have been tuning up all week.
The three-day country music festival, one of the largest in the country, brings in more than 45,000 fans. For some businesses, it competes with Fourth of July for the biggest business period of the year.
“This is big,” said Steve Larsen, manager at Seven Sisters Spirits, just south of the WE Fest grounds on Highway 59. He estimated the store will sell three times as much beer and hard alcohol as a regular summer weekend. Bags of ice are also in high demand, and he brought in a trailer full of 20-pound bags to move.
Business may boom, but only for a limited period. Area operations say festival-goers are most active from midmorning until around 2 p.m., just before the music starts again.
Aaron Swenson, who owns Bleachers, just up the road from WE Fest on Becker County Highway 22, opens his sports bar at 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday to serve “kegs & eggs” until noon.
Swenson said the three-hour window bumps up business 50 to 60 percent for the whole day, and could do even more if the weather turns bad.
“If it rains, I call in everyone I have on staff because we’ll be packed,” he said.
The booming business prompted him to reopen his general store farther up on Highway 22. The business didn’t get enough traffic except during WE Fest, so he shut his doors and opens for only one weekend a year. This year he’s adding food trucks to the parking lot to make it more of a destination.
“It’s worth it to open up for six days to beat heck and sleep at the end of it,” he said.
But as busy as it gets, it cleans out by midafternoon. By 7 p.m., the bar closes for the night, and the store shuts down an hour later.
“It’s a ghost town. You can stand here, and you won’t see five people,” Swenson said in the general store’s parking lot. “If you go anyplace, you’ll have the whole place to yourself from 7 to midnight.”
Even traffic thins as the day wears on, Larsen said.
“It’s slower at night than a regular summer night,” Larsen said. State law requires liquor stores to close by 10 p.m., so there’s no late-night business after the concerts end about midnight.
The busy afternoon and quiet evenings are just the opposite of what owner Tate Jansen usually sees at the Detroit Lakes Zorbaz.
The shift forces him to basically flip his staffing, putting more on for lunch and fewer on at night. That also means the DJ he normally has in at night plays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then again around 10 p.m.
With a lot fewer visitors on the street, Jansen said regulars tend to come out and enjoy their favorite hangouts.
“The locals realize that they can have their Zorbaz on a Friday night,” he said.
Some establishments see a second rush after the shows.
“I’m predicting pretty hefty business for late night,” said Jerry Walden, assistant manager at Burger King, adding that activity “skyrockets.”
The restaurant used to only keep its drive-thru open until 2 a.m., but this year will also keep the dining room open.
Even a late-night crush won’t top a standard WE Fest morning, Walden said.
“It gets pretty rowdy in here. There was a line out the door last year at 9 a.m.,” he said.
The crunch prompts the store to increase its staffing from 13 to 19 from midmorning through lunch, and he’ll bring in help from other Minnesota Burger Kings.
It’s not just dining and drinking establishments that see more people coming in.
Shawn Christianson, director of quality at St. Mary’s Essentia in Detroit Lakes, said the staff has been hosting “WE Fest huddles” to plan for the event.
Through Monday morning, the emergency room adds a second physician, and the number of nurses can also be increased. And a second security staffer is added.
Police Sgt. Robert Strand said his department won’t staff differently, though no one is allowed to take vacation during WE Fest or Fourth of July.
“This town just explodes. It’s unreal,” he said of WE Fest weekend.
Still, he sees activity die down at night.
“It turns into a ghost town,” he said. “It’s the one week out of the (season) when it feels like December.”
Shirley Kalberer, owner of the Tesoro at Highway 59 and Country Road 6, sees a steady stream of country fans coming in. For her, the days around the festival are bigger than July Fourth. She described the scene as “chaotic,” though she’s quick to add, “WE Festers are all happy.”
“It’s great for the community,” said Dan Neumeister, general manager at Central Market, Detroit Lakes’ grocery store.
He sees a similar midmorning to early afternoon increase in sales, mostly deli goods, snack foods, energy drinks and soda.
Still, he said one of the bigger business days will be Monday, when all of the locals who have either left town for the weekend or were lying low return to get groceries.
But businesses are ready for the crowds to bring it on.
Joy McNamare, owner of County 17 Club, sat at the bar Tuesday putting in her food order for the week. Her delivery of 25 cases of booze arrived three hours earlier, and her beer storage area was already full.
“It’s nuts in here. You can go through a ton of flippin’ beer,” she said of WE Fest weekend. “We’re ready to go. Bring ’em in.”
IF YOU GO
What: WE Fest
When: Today through Saturday
Where: Soo Pass Ranch, Detroit Lakes, Minn.
2 p.m. – Gates open
2:45 – Redline
4:15 – Ashley Monroe
6:15 – Charlie Worsham
8:30 – Florida Georgia Line
10:45 – Jason Aldean
12:30 a.m. – Black Jack Billy (Barn Stage)