Challenge of putting on Homecomers worth the effort, organizers say

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 102nd Jackson Homecomers opened Tuesday night with remarks from Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr, a performance from the Jackson Municipal Band, the crowning of the Homecomers queen and, of course, carnival rides and food.

Homecomers director Linda Penzel said she has been planning this year's event since January. She said she and her committee focus on providing musical acts and other courthouse stage entertainment, while the rides and food are organized by American Legion Post 158.

Penzel, who has been involved with the planning of Homecomers for 13 years and has been the director for three of the events, said planning such an event always presents challenges. A recent obstacle has been the difficulty in recruiting help for the committee.

Kids enjoy the Dragon Wagon roller coaster at Homecomers in downtown Jackson on Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Tuesday marked the opening day of the celebration, which lasts through Saturday. (Kristin Eberts)

"It just doesn't seem like people volunteer like they used to. I would really like to get some younger people involved in it," she said. With uncertain economic times, she is also concerned that grants she receives to stage Homecomers may not always be available. Without grants, she said, there would be no Homecomers.

But all of the challenges are worth it. Last year's event attracted an estimated 12,000 people throughout the festival, she said, because the event is still important to the community.

"It brings a lot of people back home, and there are people that even plan their vacation during the week of Homecomers. Their families can have a good time, and they can sit around and see people they went to high school with or their relatives," she said.

For the event's vendors, Homecomers provides a good opportunity to raise money for their business or organization. Larry Koehler, American Legion Homecomers chairman, said money generated at the various booths remains with the vendors. Vendors do rent space during the event, and that money goes to the American Legion. Koehler said his group uses the money generated through space rental, Legion booths and raffles to support veterans homes and the St. Louis USO.

Even with the influx of people to the uptown area, Jackson public works director Rodney Bollinger said Homecomers does not typically disrupt work schedules or cause an increase in city expenses. Crews from both the sanitation and street departments start their days by emptying trash containers and sweeping the streets along the Homecomers area. Bollinger said with both departments working together, cleanup is typically completed within an hour.

While the city may not see a disruption in business as usual, uptown merchants are divided on the event. Adam Ross, manager of Ross Furniture in Jackson, said his store does good business during the week.

"During Homecomers we do have special hours," Ross said. "It's usually a pretty good week for us since we stay open late. We kind of look at as if you can't buy that kind of advertising and get that many people in front of your store." He said the business also offers Homecomers specials.

The owners of High Street Station, however, feel differently.

"It practically shuts down the uptown Jackson for that week," Lisa Walker said. "There's quite a few businesses that just close during that week. As a small business, one week is a major deal for us."

Three businesses are closed this week, while two have reduced hours. The Jackson farmers market, which operates in the uptown area, was also closed this week.

Walker said her regular customers tend to stay away during Homecomers because of road closures and limited parking. This year, the store is staying open during regular hours and is offering a Homecomers special to try to entice customers.

Walker said she and the store's other two owners are not opposed to events in the business district, but blocking off the streets and making it more difficult for customers to shop decreases business.

Sharon Lindsey, owner of Nicole's, also thinks the event hurts her salon. She said all of the closures and the decrease in parking make it hard for small businesses to operate.

"For trying to keep uptown Jackson alive, this is a step backward," she said. Many of the uptown businesses experienced a significant decrease in business last year during a major construction project in the area, and Lindsey said they are not ready to lose a week for Homecomers.

cbartholomew@semissourian.com

243-8600

Pertinent address:

101 Court St., Jackson, MO

116 S. High St., Jackson, MO

106 S. High St., Jackson, MO

127 S. High St., Jackson, MO

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