The thousands who converged on the inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival last month brought not only their expectations for a great show, but also their wallets.
As of this writing, few tangible numbers have been released that would reveal the influx’s financial impact on Downtown. In a statement, festival organizers said the event drew 60,000 attendees over the two-day period, likely equating to about 30,000 unique visitors. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said their own report won’t be completed for another two to three months. But quick conversations with the owners of various Downtown businesses revealed a weekend of mixed economic experiences.
The immediate financial effect of Life Is Beautiful was most immediately evident at those businesses located inside the 15-block festival grounds. While the bars and restaurants of Fremont East enjoyed a largely captive clientele inside the Life Is Beautiful footprint, they were forced to close their doors far earlier than normal to keep in sync with the festival’s schedule.
And although Fremont East owners said their establishments weren’t subsidized for the potential of lost revenue, they expressed genuine enthusiasm for the event.
“It wasn’t the job of LIB to ensure business to every downtown establishment,” said Chris LaPorte, founder of Insert Coin(s). Although he didn’t see a positive impact on his bottom line, LaPorte said that the positive attention the festival brought to the area was welcome. Michael Cornthwaite, owner of The Downtown Cocktail Room, echoed LaPorte’s sentiment, saying, “[The festival] benefited my businesses in many ways that I’m sure won’t even be realized for months or years.” And Beauty Bar owner Paul Devitt said that his venue saw a steady stream of business that only slowed when better-known musical acts took to the stage.
“The only bummer is we had to shut down at midnight on Saturday,” said Devitt.
Two of Fremont East’s restaurants saw disparate results. While Radio City Pizza say they saw long lines throughout the festival, Sal Hosain said that his family-run business, Kabob Korner, “didn’t see much hustling or bustling,” which was opposite to their expectations. He believes that one contributing factor was that their regular customers weren’t able to dine in as usual.
At Coterie, the only clothing boutique inside the festival, manager Hannibal Nisperos said that business really picked up after Cirque du Soleil put on a show outside the store. Flats were a particularly popular item, he said, because “women thought they wore proper footwear, but they didn’t.”
El Cortez, the only hotel and casino within the festival footprint, fared well and was fully booked with attendees, festival staff and talent, according to the resort’s executive vice president, Alexandra Epstein. The City of Las Vegas also did well, seeing an increase in weekend revenue from parking meters … although much of that was due to Life Is Beautiful organizers, who paid all-day rates for those meters located within the festival area.
Business at establishments located just outside the festival’s perimeter varied. The Walgreens drugstore just inside the Fremont Street Experience did huge business (close to that of New Years’ Eve, according to a clerk), while Downtown Tattoo, located on Carson Street near the festival entrance, did not. One of their resident artists, Ryan Phillips, was called in for expected business that never materialized.
“We were just sitting around here. I don’t think I tattooed a single festivalgoer all weekend,” he said.
Although businesses in the festival’s outlying areas had hoped to share in the increased number of Downtown visitors, most were disappointed. Despite its prime location inside City Hall’s Main Street parking garage, Ben Sabouri, owner of MTO Café, said that only a few festival goers stopped inside the new eatery, despite the surplus of $3 parking.
“Next year I’ll be out on a corner with a sign,” said Sabouri.
Shops along Antique Alley also failed to see an uptick in busines. At Retro Vegas, co-owner Bill Johnson said an average Saturday attracts about 125 people, but that on Oct. 26, only 82 shoppers entered the shop. “So much of the activity was north of Charleston,” he said, voicing hope that next year his area could see a trickle-down effect.
Kate Aldrich, owner of Patina Decor, also saw a sharp decrease in customers, which she attributed in part to the high cost of the festival tickets, as well as to its all-inclusive nature. “All your needs were met inside,” she said, adding that the expectation of limited parking likely kept many locals at home.
Aldrich added that during next year’s festival, she might close the shop and take the weekend off.
PHOTOS BY GEOFF CARTER