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2nd Street Stage proves big draw for downtown

The concert series 2nd Street Stage proved to be a big draw to downtown Park Rapids this summer. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)1 / 2
The flower baskets on Main help create a welcoming ambiance in downtown Park Rapids, which benefitted from the 2nd Street Stage summer music series. (Jean Ruzicka/Enterprise)2 / 2

2nd Street Stage, Park Rapids’ signature event, and the resplendent flower baskets that emerge on the landscape each summer hold intrigue for guests and residents alike, members of the Downtown Business Association report.  

“The numbers are definitely up,” retail merchant Tony Bundy said of patrons. “Overall, we saw positive attitudes, among the stores and individuals. People were happy to be in town. They rave about the flowers.”  

And the number of people arriving for Thursday nights’ 2nd Street Stage - now in its fourth year - has more than doubled from when the live band performances debuted, RiverBend’s Cynthia Jones reports.  That included a visit from Bemidji’s mayor with an entourage of city officials this summer.  “I was so busy I didn’t see a concert,”

The Good Life Café owner Molly Luther said. “Thursday night brought in the people.”  And the influx of both local residents and guests - from Grand Forks, Fargo, Detroit Lakes “definitely the Cities” as well as Iowa, Nebraska and other states - sent finances into a “growth and sustaining” stage this summer.   “Last year, we almost broke even,” Luther said. “We sold a lot of beer,” she joked of a notable source of revenue for the events that runs from mid-June until the end of August.  “We have worked hard to keep it safe,” Jones said of trained “serve safe” bartenders who have been trained to card and determine levels of consumption.  

Face painting for kids, Bundy points out, is away from the beer garden. “We listen to suggestions.”  2nd Street Stage began at the prompting of Uzi Monka, the originator of Wild Loon Outfitters and Zula, who’s now living in Israel.  “Let’s start a concert series,” he suggested serendipitously at a DBA meeting. But he knew of what he spoke, having seen the success of similar endeavors in the Wisconsin Dells.  The proposal met “a great deal” of subsequent support from the city – council and administration – law enforcement and the community in general.  

Police chief Terry Eilers, who arrives in uniform, is an affable tour guide, Jones said of people asking the constable where to eat and what to do in the vibrant village.  “2nd Street Stage brings to Park Rapids people who may not otherwise come downtown,” Jones said of the long-term vision.  “They see a strong downtown,” Bundy said. “They notice things, see new stores. They may not walk in that night, but they will come back.”  “We are very fortunate,” Jones said. “There were no major incidents. It’s a fun, safe, family-oriented event that has become community owned. We see a number of (the same) people every Thursday. Businesses are appreciative. They have stepped up to support this.”  “Before, we had to sell it to sponsors,” Luther said. “Now people are calling us to participate.”  

Brian Skinness of Terrapin Station in Nevis is the mastermind behind the musical lineup. He “samples” the bands and presents his choices to the DBA via video. Of the 20 he’s chosen, the group selects 10, budget a consideration in the process.  Twenty-five businesses add $1,000 to the initiative each summer.   Three “modestly paid” individuals assist with set up to assure the events start on time. A number of volunteers lend a hand.  “They can’t be business owners,” Luther said of downtown merchants experiencing booming commerce on Thursdays.  

At a recent council meeting, Jones said, “Ellis and I have been on Main Street since 2001, 14 years. I would say 10 years ago if someone would have said that we could block off Second Street every Thursday night for 10 weeks, sold beer and had a concert I would have said they’re probably nuts.”  Now she champions the event.  “It’s fun to see the traffic on all four blocks,” she said of people strolling with bags of popcorn, rollerblading. From ages 2 to 90, electric wheelchairs to strollers, “It brings generations of families together.”  “Meet cha at 2nd Street” has now become an oft-heard catch phrase, Luther said of small town America at its finest.