Splash of Cash
Bars, liquor stores and restaurants feel greatest impact during annual Spring Splash drinking event
March 8, 2017
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They drank, they ate, they conquered.
Over the past four years, waves of students from in and out of town have charged into local bars and businesses during Spring Splash weekend, leaving a significant and steadily mounting economic footprint behind in the wake of Whitewater’s biggest annual drinking event.
On Friday, April 16, 2016 during last year’s Spring Splash weekend, Taco Fresco closed two hours early due to depletion of product in the store.
“The city was affected greatly in a positive way,” store owner Garret Witherholt said. “We pulled in twice as much in sales than we would on a normal day.”
One business which has consistently seen high impact due to the event is Westsider Liquor.
Brian Frawley, a spokesperson for the corporation which owns the gas station and liquor store, said that Spring Splash is great for the local economy.
“[April 16 of 2016] was the best day of that entire year for Westsider Liquor,” Frawley said. “The impact on our business has steadily grown through the process.”
The first year, Frawley said, the store was unprepared for the surge in sales and was not even aware that event was happening.
“It helps us immensely,” Frawley said. “It’s sad to see it go. Obviously the city had their reasons for cancelling it. I hope kids still go out and enjoy themselves.”
Rocky Rococo’s store owner Ken Dahnert said it is very significant to have a couple thousand extra people in the city during a weekend.
“College students come in and drink beer, they get rowdy and they eat,” Dahnert said. “That’s great for restaurants.”
Some community members have voiced their concerns that students coming in from out of town have become a problem, and that these non-local students are causing damages to property and littering.
But the exact perpetrators are hard to pinpoint.
Whether Spring Splash is even the most rowdy drinking event of the year is up for debate.
Owner of the Black Sheep and Casual Joe’s, Tyler Salisbery, said he has noticed that the weekend of Fourth of July tends to invite more trouble than Spring Splash.
“I would say we experience more trash, litter, and vehicle damage over the Fourth of July festival then we did during Spring Splash,” Salisbery said. “But we don’t complain because for the most part it’s good for the community.”
The same could be said by others for Spring Splash, he added.
“If we are going to take the stance of avoiding anything that could cause damage or issues again, [then] I am going to say we need to re-evaluate other community events,” Salisbery said.
Denny K’s Bar & Grill owner Dennis Knopp said he believes it is students from out of town, and not UW-Whitewater students, whom are “getting out hand.”
But he added the negative impact of litter and noise is outweighed by the positive impact that such events have on local businesses.
“As long as everyone behaves themselves, I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with it,” Knopp said. “The city should be applauding these sales increases. I welcome the revenue, no matter what.”
Knopp said he hopes every day is a good day for business, and not only during eventful weekends. He added that he feels few people come downtown anymore.
Knopp declined to provide numerical data regarding the exact impact the event has had on his own business. But he said that in 2015, Sentry Foods made the most money of its entire fiscal year by 4 p.m.
It isn’t only liquor stores, bars and restaurants impacted by the event. Local hotels also see a significant impact as more people are flowing in and out of town.
Tentative estimated data shows that the Baymont Inn sold $2,400 more in rooms over Spring Splash weekend in 2016. The Royal Purple has not independently verified this information.
Pumpers and Mitchell’s manager Curt Patrick, a former sponsor of the annual event, said local bars have generally felt the greatest impact from Spring Splash.
“The party carries on into the night, and all of the bars and taverns reap the benefits,” Patrick said. “Many of those bars’ owners called and thanked me for their record business days.”
Spring Splash promotes buying from local businesses, and “all of our businesses will feel the impact of not having the event,” Patrick said.
But, he added, the community as a whole did not benefit from the event.
No compromise reached
In the Feb. 15 edition of The Royal Purple, it was reported that Patrick and former co-sponsor of Spring Splash, Wisconsin Red founder Steve Farina, revoked their sponsorship of the event after meeting with the Whitewater Common Council about growing concerns within the community.
Patrick said he and Farina went into the meeting expecting to discuss how to improve safety and security, as well as how to reduce the number of underage drinkers.
But, Patrick said, he and Farina never had the chance to offer their proposal and reach a compromise.
Patrick said representatives from the City of Whitewater talked of possible repercussions if he and Farina did not revoke sponsorship.
The alternative plan
Patrick said the proposal he and Farina came up with was to host Spring Splash at Cravath Lakefront Park in the future.
In this alternative location, a beer tent could be set up for adults aged 21 or older to buy alcoholic beverages.
Patrick added that the aim was to make it a nonprofit event, in which all sales would go towards donations to a local food pantry and fresh water for the city of Flint, Michigan, which has notably struggled with a public health crisis amid high levels of lead poisoning due to polluted water.
Other proposals were to host a block party or a pub crawl.
‘No hard feelings’
While their proposal was ultimately shot down, Patrick and Farina support the City of Whitewater’s decision on the event.
Patrick, who has been a resident of Whitewater since 2005, said he cares about the community and wants to do what is best for everyone.
“We’re OK with not being involved in the event,” Patrick said. “I just want what is best for the community, and if that means not sponsoring Spring Splash, then I’m OK with that. I have no hard feelings.”
But while official sponsorship of event has been revoked, Patrick said he and many others are concerned that it will happen anyways, and that without careful regulation, it will get out of hand and become a repeat of last year’s event.
Patrick said he and a few volunteers began picking up trash after the event at 8 a.m. on April 17, 2016, and that by 6:30 p.m., the aftermath of the event was entirely cleaned up, and that “all evidence that the event even happened was completely gone.”
Here is the official data used in the graphic for this article that was submitted to and compiled by The Royal Purple:
Taco Fresco: Sales up by 100% in 2016.
Rocky Rococo’s: Sales up by 30% in 2016.
West Sider Liquor: Doubled sales, 150% increase in 2016; 40% increase in business each year previous [2013, 2014, 2015].
Jessica’s Family Restaurant: No significant change noted.
Jimmy John’s: 14% increase in sales from 2014 to 2015; 17% increase in 2016.
Fat Jack’s Bar & Grill: 25% increase in 2016.
Acorn Beverage: April 20th 2013 – 9.2% increase; April 12th 2014 – 12.4% increase; April 18th 2015 – 14.75% increase; April 16th 2016 – 21.35% increase.
Second Salem Brewing Company: 95% increase in 2016.
Casual Joe’s: No significant change noted.
The Black Sheep: No significant change noted.
Fanatico Italian Restaurant: No significant change noted.
The SweetSpot Café & Bakehouse: 25% decrease in sales on Spring Splash Saturday; but 11% increase in sales on Spring Splash Sunday. Overall decrease in business sales of 14% over Spring Splash weekend.