Chesterton Tribune

'It's like Oz never left town'

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The Wizard of Oz Festival was more successful than its organizers at the Duneland Business Initiative Group (DBIG) had dared to hope, attracted more visitors than they had dared to predict, and in exceeding organizers’ expectations—and possibly a lot of other people’s too—appears to have secured for itself a return engagement next year.

“I’m pretty happy but tired,” DBIG President Machelle Blount told the Chesterton Tribune today. “I think things went better than I would ever have anticipated things going. We weren’t expecting that number of people.”

How many people? Depends who you talk to. Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg has estimated between 18,000 and 20,000 visitors on Saturday and 7,000 to 8,000 on Sunday, Blount said, while the Chesterton Police Department put the numbers on Saturday slightly higher: between 20,000 and 25,000.

“We were expecting 10,000 to 12,000 on Saturday and we had a lot more,” Blount said. “Our goal was between 20,000 and 30,000 total and I would say we well exceeded that.”

Blount laughed when asked whether DBIG was planning to hold another edition of Oz Fest next year. Her answer, though, was a definite yes.

What things could have gone better?

Blount conceded that the portable restroom facilities ran short of toilet paper four times and that this problem would need to be addressed. She’s also heard from visitors who would have liked to see more Oz memorabilia and collectibles for sale, on the one hand, and more activities for kids, on the other. Next year, for instance, Blount hopes to involve the Duneland School Corporation—possibly its art department—in the Kids’ Zone at Third Street and Broadway. “I could have gotten a carnie in but I didn’t want a carnie in,” she said. “I wanted locals making some money.”

For the most part too, Blount noted, vendors have expressed both their satisfaction with the festival and their willingness to return in 2010.

Blount, moreover, had nothing but words of praise and gratitude for the Town of Chesterton and its employees. “The Police Department, the Street Department, the Fire Department, oh my gosh, I can’t say enough about them, I really can’t say enough. They were out there with smiles. (Police Chief George Nelson), he was a treasure to work with. They made it all worth it. It’s not about Oz really. It’s about what we can do for the town.”

Schnadenberg, like Blount, expressed some surprise at the sheer numbers of folks who were crammed into the Downtown. “The crowd was bigger for the parade than I anticipated in the first year,” he said. “But it’s like Oz Fest never left town. We pretty much picked up where we left off three years ago. We had very few problems and things went very smoothly. We at the Street Department had no issues.”

Lt. Dave Lohse of the CPD told the same story. “It was a peaceful and smooth event,” he said. “For us it was uneventful.”

There were no arrests at the festival and in fact no citizen’s complaints about it. Officers did speak to one property owner who, despite a CPD warning issued last week, decided to block parking on the public right-of-way in front of his house at Fourth Street and Grant Ave. with the idea of renting it. But no one actually complained about the guy, Lohse said. An officer on patrol sort of just ran into him.

Nor have there been—so far—any complaints from vendors about counterfeit money, fast-change artists, or any of the other varieties of fraud which street festivals tend to attract, Lohse said.

Finally, Lorraine Munson, a long-time Oz Fest volunteer, reported that for the first time in 10 years there had been no lost children, Lohse added.

Heather Ennis, executive director of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce, didn’t hesitate for her part to call the return of Oz a success. “It seems like everybody was having a good time,” she said. “There were lots of people very excited about the parade. I’ve heard lots of great things. We are very appreciative of DBIG for taking the Oz Fest on. Everyone seemed to have a fun time. Getting more people into our town is a good thing.”



Posted 9/21/2009