A musical business boost: Homegrown pulls in customers during slow time of year

By Adelle Whitefoot

Whether a business has been participating in Homegrown Music Festival since the beginning or just started last year, the economic boost during this week is undeniable.

Last year was the first time Blacklist Artisan Ales participated in Homegrown, hosting two nights. This year they will have three. Co-owner and marketing director Jon Loss said Homegrown is “up there with some of the prime days of the year, like New Year’s.”

“A really good night for us is about $4,000, and two of those nights is up there,” Loss said. “This year, we don’t expect the $4,000 mark. It would be great if it happened, but just in general, things are down a little bit in downtown.”

Loss said he still had high hopes the week will better than average.

Homegrown brings in people from outside the area who normally wouldn’t be spending money around this time. Tony Barrett, an economics professor at The College of St. Scholastica, said he can’t think of a single economic negative associated with the festival.

“As an international economist, I think in exports-imports, and one of the ways a regional economy can grow is by bringing in outside money, and tourism is a perfect example of that,” he said. “Everybody that comes up from Minneapolis during the festival and stays in a hotel and spends money at a bar and/or restaurant, that is new money for our economy, and that’s great.”

Barrett said as the festival has grown over the past 20 years and continues to grow, so will the impact it has on the Twin Ports area.

“Not so much because I’ll go out and listen to some band,” he said, “because that money is already in Duluth — but because outsiders from the Twin Cities, and even Chicago, will come into town and spend money. That’s a real boost. And it’s doing it kind of in our off season.”

Loss said since the taproom on Superior Street opened in November 2016, April has typically been a down month. One of the reasons is because of large snowstorms, like the one that hit April 14-16.

“More or less, we just lost a Friday and Saturday worth of revenue because of a big snowstorm, and that is a substantial amount of revenue,” Loss said. “Something not too similar happened last year in the first part of April, as well, when we were looking back in the books. March (this year) was doing OK for us, and we were up. But April is kind of floundering.”

The boost that Homegrown provides for businesses is coming at the good time.

“It’s a good financial proposition for us,” Loss said. “We definitely expect this week to be one of our busiest weeks of the whole year. It’s amazing how many people come out of the woodwork.”

Not only is the music festival a financial boost; the benefits are cultural, too. Loss said the business wants to be active in the music scene. Blacklist’s taproom manager, brewer and the brewer’s wife all have been active musicians in their lives.

“They just really want this place to be a good place to showcase up-and-coming musicians,” he said. “We try to foster toward local musicians, and Homegrown is all about fostering, highlighting and showcasing local music.”

Jason Wussow, owner of Beaner’s Central Coffeehouse, said he couldn’t imagine being a business this week not participating in Homegrown.

“If you aren’t a part of Homegrown, you are now competing against Homegrown. So instead of supporting a whole community event, you’re going to have to promote something else or not have anything,” Wussow said. “To not be a part of it, I think, would be interesting, and I’m sure we would do much worse if we weren’t a part of it.”

Beaner’s will be participating in the festival for the 18th year in a row this week. Wussow said it’s just an overall good deal.

“It costs a little bit to be in it, but they do so much to promote it and set up all the bands and volunteers, and it’s usually well attended, so it works out really well,” he said. “You get all the PR and hype and program, so it helps make for a fun, full night.”

There are so many ways to look at the economic impact Homegrown has, Wussow said, from the bands to the venues.

“It gets so many people out to see so many local bands that it kind of helps push the whole year for all the original artists and venues booking from that talent pool in the future,” he said.

Wussow said though Homegrown might not be the biggest money maker for Beaner’s, “it’s definitely a huge boost in everyone’s spirit and just recharges you for the whole year.”

“To me it’s like the holiday of the year,” he said. “Everybody has their favorite holiday, and I guess mine is Homegrown.”

Not only is Homegrown during the tail end of the off season in Duluth but, Loss said, it helps kick off the summer season.

“It really has become an entity in itself,” he said. “So it makes it pretty easy to get on board.”