Impact of da Tour de Fat

What Tour de Fat — and events like it — mean for businesses

Four weeks ago, the traveling cycling spectacle known as the Tour de Fat made its Chicago debut, and it was a big fat blast! Mais bien sûr! (“But of course!” with a big fat French Belgian accent.) I wrote about it in anticipation of its coming to the neighborhood in Scene in Logan Square: Tour de Fat, and here, in hindsight, I can comment on its impact on the neighborhood.

The Tour de Fat, because it is more mobile than other events, is a rare happening that can throw a wide net and have a wide impact on the neighborhood. The day began with a bike ride through the neighborhood (see map below), including the primary commercial

corridors of Logan Square: Milwaukee Avenue, California Avenue (including Logan Square’s restaurant row), Fullerton Avenue and Armitage Avenue. The ride also showed off Logan Square’s premier housing stock on Kedzie and Logan Boulevards.

As neighborhood resident Falon (also of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and contributor to its bike>>blog) pointed out, even if participants didn’t patronize neighborhood businesses on the day of the event, they are now more familiar with the neighborhood and what it has to offer. If they liked what they saw — and I didn’t hear anyone who didn’t — they’ll feel comfortable coming back to the neighborhood, checking out something specific that caught their attention on the ride, or maybe even moving to Logan Square one day. As you can see (below), the riders biked right up the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that is the current subject of this blog, and hopefully they’ll be back.

Tour de Fat bikers ride up Milwaukee Ave.*

Following the neighborhood ride, the rest of the day’s festivities took place at Palmer Square. In advance of the event, I asked the business nearest to Palmer Square, Streetside Bar & Grill, if they would share some numbers with me in order to have a measure of the impact of having the event in the neighborhood. Sales were up 15% from a typical summer Saturday. Of course, we can’t establish a definitive causal relationship between the Tour and increased sales, but Lindsay on staff noted that there were costumed Tour goers at Streetside that day. Those without costume wouldn’t necessarily get noticed. And we’ll probably never know who might come to Streetside on another day because she saw it on the neighborhood ride.

Event organizers estimate 500 people took the ride around the neighborhood, and 1500 enjoyed the day’s extravaganza in place at Palmer Square. A non-scientific zip code poll of 10% of attendees (taken by yours truly) found that:

  • 37% of attendees were from the neighborhood,
  • 21% were from surrounding neighborhoods,
  • 13% were from Chicago neighborhoods within 4-5 miles of Logan Square,
  • 9% came from more distant Chicago neighborhoods,
  • 9% came from suburbs of Chicago, and
  • 10% came from out-of state (including one from London!).

Assuming that those in the neighborhood are already patronizing local businesses (though even that may be a leap of faith), if only 15% of those from outside the neighborhood came back to patronize Milwaukee Avenue businesses after a similar event, that would be 150 new customers with these kinds of numbers. At 1500 people, the Tour de Fat had a good debut turnout, but I think organizers would like to see the numbers increase in coming years.

It’s important to note that Streetside is located 3/8ths of a mile from the center of activities at Palmer Square, a seven acre open green space surrounded by 19th century residences. Imagine the potential for increased sales if this type of event were held on or at least in plain sight of a commercial corridor like Milwaukee Avenue. This type of event could be a great way to people Milwaukee Avenue and have a lot of fun in the process.

It’s also important to note that the Tour de Fat is a bike and beer festival, with food served to boot. An event without an emphasis on
food and drink and food could cause attendees to hunger and thirst for some local fare.

The Tour de Fat had a lot of things going for it as well. The event was something new for Chicago and the neighborhood. It was not your father’s festival (see mock funeral procession at left): There were odd costumes, odd contests, odd music, odd sideshows, and a very chill vibe. It was just the type of event that was a good fit for a progressive neighborhood. The event was set up well, run well and M.C.’d well. I’m sure a good time was had by all.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the impacts of da Tour de Fat that organizers were hoping for: $11,878 raised for West Town Bikes, 82% of festival trash recycled, pledges to replace 126,820 car miles for bike miles this year, and the coup de grace–one Joe Marinaro traded in his car for a bike and promised to live car-free for a year (see video below).

Don’t you just wish you were there?


A conversation starter: What kind of event would draw you out to check out the neighborhood?


*Bike Parade photo courtesy of theereilly on Flickr

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