Stamford’s concert series draws big, fills coffers
By Danielle BrodyUpdated
When a total 35,000 people came to Stamford for the city’s six-week Alive@Five Concert series this summer, new and old businesses capitalized on the crowds while, at the same time, “the City that Works” burnished its after-hours image.
Sandy Goldstein, president of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District, a nonprofit responsible for downtown development, said the goal of the million-dollar program is to bring people into the city and to showcase it as a hip destination. The event, which has gone on for about 15 years, is produced by Stamford Downtown and the city of Stamford. It offers concerts in Columbus Park for $5 or $10 for six consecutive Thursday evenings.
The event draws people from Connecticut, Westchester and New York City, Goldstein said, adding that some only know about Stamford because of the concert series.
“We get no return on our investment—our investment is all about branding the downtown,” Goldstein said. “The restaurants get incredible economic benefits.”
On the last night of the series, a crowd of about 9,600 people packed into Columbus Park to see singer Shaggy perform. Police had to limit admittance, leaving at least 2,000 people to listen from beyond the event barriers around Stamford’s downtown, Goldstein said. During the concerts, the restaurants in the park area were “drop-dead booming,” and after, people dispersed throughout the area, giving some spots a 600 percent boost in sales, she said.
About a mile away from the heart of the event, Harbor Point businesses also reaped the Alive@Five rewards. Matt Christy, market development partner for World of Beer’s New England region, said staff handed out fliers during concerts to tell people about the DJ after-parties. This was the first summer the specialty beer restaurant participated since it opened last July.
Christy said on the two biggest concert nights, Boyz II Men on July 16, which saw about 9,000 people, according to Goldstein, and Shaggy on Aug. 13, sales increased about 25 percent.
Christy was surprised about the lack of knowledge of the restaurant’s concept - the venue introduces mainstream beer drinkers to craft beers — and this was an effort to raise awareness. He said the shuttle that connects Harbor Point and downtown could also use more exposure.
“Harbor Point is a new development,” Christy said. “It’s not fully finished. It’s basically just Sign of the Whale and World of Beer. So we’re trying to get the word out.”
Next door at Sign of the Whale, sales manager Jennifer Duffy said the staff talked at length about what to do during the event and decided to go with a simple strategy.
“We knew that we weren’t really located right in the center, so we went with other ways of getting them in here, but not taking them away from Alive@Five,” Duffy said.
The restaurant extended happy hour until 9 p.m., which attracted some of the professionals who did not want to be in the crowded downtown scene as well as some of the overflow, she said. After the concert, Sign of the Whale hosted an after party with a DJ and offered a free drink to people with a concert wristband.
Laura Oggi, the marketing director at Gastro Bar, a Mediterranean restaurant on West Park Place, within earshot of the concerts, said she and the staff look forward to the event every summer because those Thursday nights are more packed than other nights. People start showing up hours before the concert to get a good seat and stay until the bar closes.
“From 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. people are always in and out,” Oggi said.
The restaurant hired additional staff during Alive@Five, opened a bar on its outdoor patio, and, for the first time this year, rented extra bathrooms.
Another Gastro Bar first this year was hosting two private corporate events. The professionals came early for happy hour and had an open bar, Oggi said. The staff wasn’t sure they could handle the events because Alive@Five nights are so busy, but the evenings went smoothly and they will most likely do it again, she said.
While the liveliest days of the concert series are behind them, the restaurants plan to keep up the momentum with happy hours, events and social media engagement. Gastro Bar is participating in Stamford Downtown’s next program, Restaurant Week, which began Aug. 17 and ends Aug. 30.
“We hope that there’s a residual impact — that people who went to the different restaurants and enjoyed it enough will come back,” Goldstein said.