TRAVERSE CITY -- Economic survival over the long winter is no laughing matter for northern Michigan businesses, but many found something to smile about this month.
Downtown merchants reported a solid business boost over the weekend, thanks in part to the inaugural Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival. Coupled with the third annual Winter Wonderfest over the extended Presidents Day weekend a week earlier, the events generated a significant bump in visitor numbers during a traditionally slow time.
"It was crazy," said Kathleen Stanley, a manager at Mackinaw Brewing Co. in downtown Traverse City. "The (comedy festival) weekend was crazy, and the Winterfest was crazy too."
Restaurant owner Phil Murray said the comedy festival "exceeded my expectations" as the business packed in patrons well past midnight on both weekend nights.
"It was wonderful -- a great time," said Murray, owner of Phil's on Front. "The place was packed at 2 o'clock in the morning."
Retailer Misha Neidorfler of Morsels downtown said the festival created a buzz in her bite-sized bakery shop. Comedy festival headliner Roseanne Barr stopped in Saturday afternoon to try a "Roseanne Bar" created for the weekend -- a Rice Krispies treat drizzled in chocolate and marshmallow sauce.
"I gave her one, she ate it and said, 'It's good,'" Neidorfler said. "It was pretty cool."
The festival generated about 12,000 admissions, and exceeded the original target of 8,000 tickets sold, said Deb Lake, executive director of the Traverse City Film Festival. Organizers added some additional shows that boosted attendance figures, and most venues were full or near capacity, a fact that pleased performers, Lake said.
"We know we broke even," said Lake, acknowledging the festival benefitted from mild weekend weather conditions that featured sunshine on Saturday and temperatures near 40 degrees. "It's possible we may have generated a little bit of revenue."