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Attendance at Taste of Chicago down more than 11 percent

Crowds gather line Original Rainbow Cone booth hot day Taste Chicago last month. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Crowds gather in line at the Original Rainbow Cone booth on a hot day at Taste of Chicago last month. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 7, 2011 4:41AM



For several days now, vendors and planners have been saying attendance was down at this year’s Taste of Chicago, and numbers released Wednesday bear that out:

Some 2.35 million visitors went to the annual chowfest this year. That’s roughly 11 percent less than last year.

This year’s figure was provided by the Chicago Park District, which hosted the event for this first time.

The 2010 Taste of Chicago drew 2.65 million people, about 700,000 fewer than the 3.35 million who attended the annual summer fest in Grant Park in 2009.

At its peak, the Taste – started in 1980 – drew 3.6 million in 2006 and 2007.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday the city is going to take a look at the 31-year-old Taste, but vowed to keep it going in the future.

“We’ll ask some core questions,’’ Emanuel said two days after the Taste ended. “ . . . We will ask questions about how to do it better, but not [about] whether we should” continue to hold it.

Charles Robinson, the owner and founder of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs — long a top seller at the Taste — said his sales had dropped 30 to 40 percent.

“It’s hard to be out there 10 days and not make any money,” Robinson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “We’re not out there just to get our name out, we’re out there to make money. If we break even, we’ll be lucky this year.”

Last year, he made nearly $300,000, but he estimates this year his sales hit only $200,000.

Robinson said reduced hours and the lack of big-name entertainment and a July 3 fireworks show — plus the still-lagging economy — all contributed to the poor turnout.

“The most important thing that happened was the lack of entertainment, closing down early and not letting people in until 11 a.m.,” Robinson said. The Taste ended at 8:30 p.m. nightly, a half-hour earlier than previous years — and 6 p.m. on Sunday, which took some by surprise, he said.

Robinson said the event should be handed over to a private firm to run next year, an idea that was discussed but rejected by former Mayor Richard M. Daley as he sought to reverse $7 million in festival losses over three years. City Hall rejected a proposal to charge a $10 admission fee.

Some city officials this week privately questioned whether having fewer attractions to draw people to the Taste, coupled with recent high-profile attacks downtown, could have kept people away in droves.

From a security standpoint, this year’s Taste of Chicago was a rousing success.

Emanuel on Tuesday congratulated Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on the nearly 50 percent drop in arrests and 20 percent reduction in citations for soliciting, panhandling and peddling without a license. There wasn’t a single incident involving illegal weapons.



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