Ready for the WE Fest rush -- Local business booms during festival
The WE Festers have officially hit Detroit Lakes — and businesses are stocking their shelves to accommodate one of the busiest weekends of the year.
From bags of ice to cases of beer, crates of eggs to rolls of bandages, everyone is preparing for whatever may come with the 40,000-plus people who descend upon the area.
WE Fest visitors come from near and far and from every direction, so no matter where the business, they’re likely to see an increase in sales this week.
Aaron Swenson, owner of Bleachers, said that he has offered kegs and eggs with tap beer and scrambled eggs the last couple years and it was a hit. Located along County Road 22, Swenson’s establishment is prime location for catching WE Fest customers.
Last year he added a little bit more breakfast with egg burritos and such, and “it totally took off.”
So for the long weekend, Swenson has completely switched his business and now closes his doors at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday night because there aren’t any customers at night with the WE Fest headliners on stage, and instead he’s open for breakfast, something he usually doesn’t do.
“The prep is different because we’re not used to cooking breakfast,” he said. Bleachers usually doesn’t open until 10 a.m. and is more known for its burgers.
So they have to make room in the kitchen for breakfast items instead.
And just up the hill, Swenson is now the owner of the General Store, and this is his first WE Fest owning the gas and convenience store business. He’s been taking advice from previous owners about how to prepare, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t stress over it either.
“This will be our sixth year (at Bleachers). We know the drill. The unexpected at the General Store, that’s making me lose sleep.”
There he is prepping with extra ice, beverages and hot sandwiches, and a larger staff over the next few days to accommodate the surge in customers. “It’s always fun to see it come, and OK to see it go,” he said of WE Fest.
Another semi-newcomer to their respective business for the WE Fest season this year is Lakes Liquors Manager Jim Watland, who started at the liquor store April 1.
“I took my lesson from the Fourth. It was so big for us,” he said of July Fourth. The municipal liquor store did $70,000 extra in sales that week.
Tuesday as he stocked shelves, Watland said besides the typical beer, it’s almost a hit or miss as to what people want each year for alcohol. The key is to just keep it all stocked.
“We’re amping up the shelf product and the (staff) to get people in and out quickly,” he said. “We have increased help exponentially.”
As for products, “a lot of plastics and cans over bottles tend to be what they’re here after,” he said. Customers also come looking for the small shot bottles as well.
To keep up with the product going out by the cartloads, Watland has trucks stopping at the liquor store to restock shelves each day. They normally get trucks every two days, he said.
The liquor store also has a trailer of ice outside for coolers as well.
For those who have been around WE Fest in the past, they know what needs to be stocked and what doesn’t.
“They’re not here for the cereal, it’s the Powerade and juices,” said Tyler Kalberer, owner of Tesoro station on County Road 6 and Highway 59.
And the weather comes into play when it comes to the amount of beverages purchased as well. Have a warmer weekend and that equals more sports drinks and water sold.
“It’s amplified, not different, just more product,” Kalberer said of how he stocks his shelves to plan for the week. The number of on-duty staffers is also amped up. “Every employee we have is working,” he added.
Essentia Health St. Mary’s has increased its staff this year in anticipation of a busy weekend.
“We had a pre-WE Fest huddle with all our department managers and our president and went around the whole hospital facility, ED (emergency department), urgent care, and talked about what preparations have been put into place and what came up last year that we need to think about this year,” said Shawn Christianson, director of quality at Essentia.
She said they have reviewed all patient care and supplies used from previous years to attempt to gauge what to be prepared for this year. They include the weather forecast in their preparations: It’s supposed to be pleasant this year — highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, with little chance of rain.
Most of the departments are pulling in more staff members over the long weekend, and there is a list of those on-call as well, she said. “The ambulance crews actually post a truck outside of WE Fest and help with hydration on the WE Fest grounds,” she said, adding that they turn over the Frazee area coverage to Perham so more staff and an additional truck are available for the Detroit Lakes area that weekend. Bottom line, regardless of the business, all hands are on deck for a long weekend of festival fun and business for Detroit Lakes merchants.
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.