Promoting Main Street takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is to position the downtown as the hub of the community and economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics. To generate foot-traffic and spending in local eateries and businesses, you need an effective downtown business promotion.
At the recent 2020 Downtown Intersections virtual conference Merit Awards session, the Town of Strasburg received the Best Downtown Business Promotion award for their annual Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup Festival, a food festival celebrating the delicious duo and nourishing the local economy.
Four years in, the affordable, family-friendly festival, which began with a few hundred visitors, now has a maximum capacity of 1,200 tasters and during the day brings close to 3,000 total visitors to downtown Strasburg (which has a population of 6,000)! Over ten local restaurants and another dozen retail businesses join in on this ooey gooey festival.
Early bird tasting tickets are $5 and general admission is $10. Tasters receive a button and make their way through downtown enjoying samples at each restaurant and face painting, temporary tattoos, and tie-dye in the retail stores. Volunteers stand post at each restaurant, checking buttons, and helping visitors navigate downtown. Close to forty volunteers make the event possible, running activities and surveying guests.
Restaurants come up with their own unique cheesy delights, such as two mini pancakes filled with cheddar and bacon or a shrimp grilled cheese dipped in gumbo. Yum! Chef creativity is encouraged and the tasters are able to vote designating the winning Big Cheese best sandwich and Spoiled Rotten Tomato best soup.
The organizers earn around $7,000 from ticket sales and $1,000 from merchandising. Overhead for marketing and music costs $3,000. In addition, each restaurant that does not run out of food receives $300 to help recoup the cost of materials. The festival pays for itself, while the town and local businesses reap the financial benefits from increased downtown visitation and returning customers.
Want to go deeper? Check out our conversation about the festival on the Partners for Better Communities podcast. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply play it here.
Then get highlights and images in our official award video.