By Scott Tedrick
When Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak attended a Mayors Tax Reform Advisory Group for Local Government Aid in Granite Falls this past August he encouraged other mayors who were present to attend the 9th annual Meander calling it "one of the five great events in Minnesota."
Such endorsements illustrate why the annual Upper Minnesota River Valley Art Crawl has grown ever since inception, increasing in impact both economically and socially.
Later this week, Meander artists will gather and talk sales providing official numbers, but early reports from regional artists and businesses suggest either a continuation, plateau or slight drop in this trend depending on the individual.
Given that the past several years had graced the Meander with ideal weather, the general feeling was that 2012 continued the successful trend, proving that even if the weather turns relatively sour people are still willing to turn out for the art crawl.
"We were a little concerned Thursday when we heard the weather wasn't going to be perfect like it had been the previous few years ... But the numbers of people were about the same as last year, and our sales were up slightly," said Gene Tokheim of Tokheim Stoneware, located in Dawson. "
"We probably had over a thousand people and as usual they came from the Twin Cities, South Dakota––from maybe a 130 miles radius. We've improved every year now, so as far as I'm concerned we're going in the right direction and I hope it continues that way for many more years."
Local wood carver, Curt Soine said his attendance and sales seemed to be about on par with last year. "We had a lot of return customers who come every year and we had quite a few new people that hadn't been on the Meander before, so that was nice too," he said. "I think we probably had a few more younger people (age 35 and under)."
Granite Falls water color and linocut artist, Brad Hall, said his attendance was down but sales were up.
"I think attendance was slightly down. I think do to the bitter cold. However, sales were actually up for me, so the people that did attend were buying."
Featured Meander watercolor artist Audrey Arner and, husband and potter, Richard Handeen, of Moonstone Farm in rural Montevideo, were still recovering from the energetic demands when they were reached at their home on Monday. They had yet to tally their sales, but in speaking to area artists their general impression was that sales were a little down––though Arner noted that the Meander is more than about sales.
"As important as the economic impact is the social networking," she said. So many relationships are initiated, solidified or advanced. It's such a good time. Your smiling muscles get tired. You can't stop because the mode of the event is one of enjoyment."
Page 2 of 2 - For the second consecutive year the Meander Kick-Off celebration was held in Granite Falls and this year hundreds braved the cold to watch the Meandering River Walk outdoor theater, which told the history of the riverside city in two back-to-back productions.
The general sentiment by attendees was that performances exceeded expectations, despite the temperatures and some wireless microphone issues during the first production.
"From what I heard the Meander Opening Night was a huge success. The play was fantastic," said Brad Hall. "[Director] Ashley Hanson and [playwright] Andrew Gaylord did a fantastic job. How are we going to top that next year?"
Businesswise, Carl's Bakery owner Tom Aus said sales were comparable to last year and that there was a large influx of new faces. Meanwhile, Jimmy's Pizza owner Veronica Tolifson, said sales were considerably down from last year, though it was still a successful evening. Reports from Thrifty White were that it probably wasn't worth it to stay open.
Off Main Street, restaurants such as Tillie's saw a nice surge in business while both the Granite Falls Super Motel and Prairie's Edge Casino Resort benefited from Meanderer patronage.
Like many of the artists and businesses, Aus expressed a general appreciation to the artists, business owners and volunteers who have made the event a continued regional benefit.
"Each of us is just a spoke in the wheel that makes this a success," he said. "It's a community effort and I just think it continues to be headed in the right direction."