July 28th, 2022

As Long Branch Fest Approaches, We Pause to Ask — Why Are There Festivals?

The third annual Long Branch Festival is coming up this September 9th and 10th (Friday through Saturday).  

For Long Branch residents, the Long Branch Festival means good music, good food, dance, games and a welcome break from the daily routine.

The very few hassles – some parking headaches and increased road traffic – are temporary and easily outweighed by the many benefits.

From a shop owner’s perspective, however, the balance of pros and cons can seem less obvious.  After all, store owners and their staffs are often too busy running their own businesses and serving their own customers to directly take part in the fun.  So, what’s the point?

With that very question in mind, we decided to write these reflections on what festivals are for.

Food, Drink, and Marketing

The benefits from a festival for a business district go well beyond the increased food and beverages sales. 

Increased sales, to be sure, are a big benefit — in particular for those restaurants that take advantage of the opportunity to set up a table right inside the festival space.

Restaurants located closest to the festival space are naturally in the best position to profit from the increased sales generated by the higher than usual pedestrian traffic.

But what about those Long Branch businesses who don’t sell food and drink, or who are located further away from the festival space, which centers around Flower Avenue Urban Park?  What do they get out of a festival?

Well, for one thing, such businesses can get increased exposure and greatly increased name recognition by setting up a table right in the festival space.  It doesn’t cost anything. And the potential marketing advantages are big.

After all, the Long Branch festival is growing bigger every year.  Over the course of the festival weekend, easily a thousand or more residents will attend the event.  Most of those attendees live within walking distance of downtown Long Branch.

Some of these potential customers are new to the Long Branch area. Others may have lived in the neighborhood for years but have yet to venture out to discover their local shops.

Long Branch – Our Home

Those of us who have long worked in Long Branch already feel comfortable here.  It doesn’t even occur to us that someone might feel nervous about walking around Long Branch. 

And yet many people do feel nervous.  And that’s a problem, because people who feel nervous in an area – well, such people don’t search out their local nail shops or phone repair services – or anything else. They stay at home, or they shop somewhere else.

Which brings us to another important function of festivals. They create a place where one can see many smiling, friendly faces all together in one place. Where everyone is having fun. In such an atmosphere, people quickly begin to feel safe and at home.  

The Long Branch festival creates bonds of affection for Long Branch.  Indeed, this has repeatedly been proven by the many joyful comments one overhears at the previous festivals in years past.  

People who love their neighborhood are no longer fearful.  And when they come to realize that all these good things have been created by their own local shop owners, their new bonds of affection for Long Branch begin to extend to Long Branch shops as well.  

Festivals as a ‘Thing’

It’s not all about sales and commercial advantage, of course. From a philosophical perspective, festivals are one of those things that can be considered a ‘good in themselves,’ that is to say, they are good for reasons other than their being useful.

Festivals don’t merely ‘build community’ for some future, other ‘good thing’: festivals are already that very good thing that community itself is made of.

So much of modern life today is made up of moments where people — even when, in principle, located in the same space — are all preoccupied with their private phone screens.  Even a park might be something that is useful to joggers, but then they are each jogging, so to speak, alone, and for themselves.

Almost uniquely, a festival is about the enjoyment of being together with others who are all enjoying good things, and those good things simply are what they are because everyone is enjoying them together.

So  — to quote a hit pop song from the sixties — ‘forget all your troubles, forget all your cares,’ and join the Long Branch Festival in downtown Long Branch this year!  And that’s an invitation extended equally to all our local residents and all our local shop owners.