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Taste attendance down 400,000; Saturday closing hit vendors hard

The empty entryway beyond Taste Chicago was closed all day Saturday due weather. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

The empty entryway and beyond at the Taste of Chicago was closed all day Saturday due to the weather. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

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Taste of Chicago food vendors serve up high numbers despite weather
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Updated: August 16, 2014 6:13AM

After powerful storms led to the cancellation of Saturday’s festivities at the Taste of Chicago, final attendance numbers for last weekend’s event also took a bath.

Roughly 1.1 million attended the annual food and music festival in Grant Park this year, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. That’s down 400,000 from last year’s attendance number of 1.5 million.

Attendance also was slightly down when compared to 2012, when 1.2 million people went to the festival.

Overall, however, attendance numbers for the festival – which was first held in 1980 — have been on a skid since the heyday of the mid-2000s. An estimated 3.6 million people attended the festival in both 2006 and 2007.

The full-day closure is also expected to hit Taste revenue, though the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said it was too early to estimate what the effect might be.

“Because we weren’t able to open Saturday, yes, we weren’t able to sell anything that day,” said Mary May, department spokeswoman, adding that revenue totals would be released at a later date.

“The first three days were wonderful; we were very upset not to open on Saturday, but it was a safety decision,” said May.

Last year, the city reported the Taste was profitable for the first time since 2007; it generated $272,000 in profit and approximately $106 million in total business for the Chicago economy.

But as vendors counted their receipts Monday, it was clear they were feeling the loss of Saturday’s sales.

Ken Raskin, owner of Manny’s Deli, the corned beef purveyor that has taken over sales of the festival’s iconic barbecued turkey leg, said he could count on a deficit.

“I’m sure we will lose money. We haven’t tallied everything up,” Raskin said.

“Turkey legs sell great; we didn’t have enough selling time, that’s all. Maybe next year.”

Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake, another Taste regular, said losing Saturday hits particularly hard.

“Last year, the Saturday was the best day,” Schulman said. “It’s substantial.”

Schulman estimates his company’s Saturday sales last year accounted for about one-third of their overall festival business.

“It’s sort of like we’ll always mark this year with an asterisk,” he said.

“We’re doing it next year, it’s not going to change our enthusiasm for the event.”

Contributing: Diana Novak, Brian Slodysko

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