THERE is little that can be done in the short term to prevent businesses from succumbing to the economic pressures that forced Ken's Flower Shops to close its downtown location and Diva restaurant to announce that the fires in its kitchen will be extinguished for good next Saturday. But that fact makes it more important than ever to keep alive festival events such as Taste of the Town that draw visitors to the heart of the city.
Toledo and northwest Ohio benefited less than they should have from the boom of the 1990s. And this area has been hit hard by rising fuel prices, job losses to overseas, the mortgage crisis, and the auto industry's continuing woes. Nowhere has this been felt more strongly than in Toledo, where empty storefronts and boarded-up homes bear mute testimony to the city's struggles.
In addition to Diva and Ken's, recent months have seen the closing downtown of Bellacino's Pizza & Grinders, Quizno's Subs, Jackson's Lounge & Grill, the Durty Bird, the Salad Galley, and the Golden Lily, plus, of course, the COSI science museum.
Some closures can be attributed to the natural attrition rate of new businesses. Other factors: the decline in potential daytime customers as companies such as Owens-Illinois Inc. relocate to the suburbs and a lack of evening events to draw nighttime visitors.
While there are no guarantees, brighter days are on the horizon. The new downtown sports arena, expected to open in the fall of 2009, will be home to a professional hockey franchise whose moniker, the Toledo Walleye, was recently unveiled, and potentially an arena football franchise yet to be named. These teams, along with the Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field during the summer and other arena events, should attract visitors to Toledo year-round and act as a spur for other downtown businesses.
Will this turn downtown into a tourist magnet - a northwest Ohio version of New Orleans' French Quarter? No, but it's a start that would go a long way toward changing people's impression of Toledo from a wasteland to a destination.
That's why Taste of the Town, the Fourth of July fireworks, and other events that leave people with a good feeling about Toledo are so important to the city's future. These events show people who otherwise seldom visit that the downtown is safe, accessible, friendly, and fun. Taste of the Town, in particular, spotlights two of the city's best features: the amazing diversity and quality of its cuisine and its vibrant, varied musical heritage.
But the future of those events is in doubt. Last month's announcement by CitiFest that it was disbanding put the fireworks, the Holiday Parade, Rally by the River, and other events in jeopardy. This week, Midas Touch Productions announced that while it is busily organizing the 25th annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off in Maumee, it does not plan to run Taste of the Town again after losing money on last year's event.
We believe the continuation of these events - even if they do not show a short-term profit - is crucial to the life and future of downtown Toledo. That's why The Blade is examining what it can do to make sure CitiFest's failure and the current economic climate don't doom these events as well.
Others, including city government, local businesses, and area industries, need to step to the plate as well, to do their part to help Toledo reach that brighter day on the horizon.