By Susan Redden
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Organizers of Third Thursday events plan a toast today to open the new season of activities that have grown to bring thousands to downtown Joplin.
But if there’s a chance those raised glasses will fill with snow, the program for March will be canceled, and the art exhibits, music and other offerings will wait for an April opening.
The decision will be made at noon, said Trisha Patton, director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance.
If the rain and snow predicted for today are minimal, the show will go on, she said. If it rains or snows to the extent that outdoor activities would be limited, Main Street will be opened to traffic, outdoor activities will be canceled or moved, and Third Thursday will go on with indoor events only.
Even limited activities on a snowy day probably would attract more visitors to downtown than the first Third Thursday Artwalk six years ago.
“We put it together in a week’s time,” said Linda Teeter, an early organizer of the event. “It was one gallery with about 12 artists, music at Spiva (Park) and a few things businesses put together. “About 50 people came that night.”
Now, it has become a well-known event, said the Joplin businesswoman whose photography often is part of a gallery display.
The goal of Third Thursday “is to bring people downtown and to encourage interest in the downtown through the art and cultural community,” Patton said. The Downtown Joplin Alliance is the overall sponsor of the program that runs from March through October.
“It’s grown in popularity and scope,” she said. “Now we have art in 15 galleries, and we close off seven blocks of Main Street. And it’s not only visual arts; we’re also focused on performing arts, getting local theater groups and schools involved, and more entertainment activities.”
Third Thursdays often are used as fundraisers for local organizations to promote causes such as rebuilding Joplin in the wake of the 2011 tornado. Today’s focus is to be on efforts to promote recycling. Downtown trees have been decorated with bottles recycled into artwork under the supervision of Art Feeds, and groups including GreenTown Joplin, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and CMC Recycling are to present information and demonstrations.
Third Thursday has proved successful in attracting people downtown, based on an informal Downtown Joplin Alliance count last May.
“Volunteers sat at Sixth and Main streets and counted passers-by. In May, they counted 5,024,” Patton said. “We think that’s a good estimate.”
Patton said DJA officials don’t necessarily claim that bringing more people downtown translates to more business for downtown merchants.
“We know it impacts restaurants and entertainment venues, but we don’t think there’s that much impact on retail,” she said.
She said retailers are supportive, but some have to add extra staff for the night for an influx of customers who may not necessarily be shoppers.
“It can help them capture new clients, and we’ve done surveys that show a significant number of people who said they have fund out about a shop or a service that’s downtown because of Third Thursday,” she said.
Diners fill up Hackett’s Hot Wings during Third Thursday, according to Floyd Hackett.
“It has a great impact,” he said. “And what we’re finding is people are coming in earlier, so they can eat and then go enjoy all the festivities.”
Club 609 started adding some patio seating in front of the restaurant to supplement inside seating during several Third Thursday events last year.
“It’s normally a very good night for us,” said a worker there.
Though Patton was more measured in describing the event’s impact on retailers, those who were sampled said the impact is significant.
Third Thursdays generate “a ton of traffic,” said Bri Davidson, a sales associate at the Blue Moon Market, which sells women’s clothing, jewelry and home decor.
She said the store always stays open for the event, and it has been so crowded “that people will come back the next day when they feel like they’ve got room to look at everything.”
Third Thursdays bring a lot of downtown visitors who stop in at the Upstairs Boutique, a women’s clothing and accessory store, said Deb Allison, sales and marketing manager.
“It doesn’t always translate to higher sales because sometimes women are with their husband and children, and won’t take time to shop. And we have to staff up because there are so many people,” she said. “But, there is a positive ripple effect because people will come back later. Any time you can get hundreds of people through your business, there’s an impact.”
In recent years, the range of Third Thursday has extended to retailers farther south, including Local Color, an art gallery in the Gryphon Building that is run by a coalition of local artists.
Shuttles didn’t run at the end of the season, “and you could really tell it,” said Donna Roberts, an artist at the gallery on Wednesday.
“When it ran, we had a lot more people coming in. We were seeing a lot of people who had never been here before.”
BECAUSE OF THE THREATENING FORECAST, the Joplin Schools Foundation has postponed today’s “Let’s Eat!” fundraising event to benefit the Snackpack program. The fundraiser will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Third Thursday on June 20. All pre-purchased tickets dated for March 21 will be honored in June. Those who want refunds may contact Bailey Stehm at the Joplin School District administration building, 625-5200, ext. 2044.