DORA sales increase with return of Food Truck Festival series in Grove City

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
(From left) Haley Williams, 9, her mother, Beth Moorman-Williams, and Chris and Melanie Flaum, all of Grove City, cross Broadway during Heart of Grove City's first Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop of the season May 14. The city's Designated Outdoor Recreation Area was in effect for the event.

When Grove City implemented a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area in July 2019 for its Town Center, it was as a one-year pilot program.

It was understood that it would take a while for visitors to the downtown area – especially those from out of town – to become familiar with the program and that the DORA's impact could only be fully measured during warm weather months, said Andy Furr, executive director of the Heart of Grove City, the nonprofit group that promotes the Town Center.

The DORA allows patrons to purchase alcoholic drinks poured into DORA-marked cups from bars and restaurants in the Town Center and take their beverages with them and consume them within a designated 15.81-acre section of the city.

Grove City's Designated Outdoor Recreation Area was in effect for Heart of Grove City's first Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop of the season May 14.

They also may take their drinks with them when they visit any Town Center retail store in the designated area that has agreed to participate in the program.

The DORA program was set back last year when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit, Furr said.

It was still in effect, "but it was pretty slow around here," he said.

Signature Town Center events, such as the Wine and Arts Festival and Bourbon Tasting, were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

"We still had our Food Truck Festival twice, but we didn't have many people showing up," Furr said. "I think people were pretty concerned about the pandemic and wearing masks and social distancing.

"The DORA is designed to help create a relaxing atmosphere for people to browse through the downtown shops, walk around and sit on a bench while enjoying a beverage.

"It's another tool in our tool box."

The pandemic threw a wrench into that, he said.

The early returns indicate that has changed in 2021 as the pandemic restrictions ease, people are getting vaccinated and the signature events are returning, Furr said.

"Talking with the business owners, the Town Center was packed" for the first Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop of the season May 14, he said.

Although an exact tally isn't available, the sales of beverages in DORA cups were "definitely on a big uptick," Furr said.

Hop Yard 62 sold about 600 DORA drinks during the Food Truck Festival, which runs from 4 to 9 p.m., owner Kevin Huston said.

"That compares to probably 150 or so on a normal night when the weather's decent," he said. "I had to bring on a couple extra bartenders to handle things. It was crazy."

Guests line up at the Blu Olive food truck during Heart of Grove City's first Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop of the season May 14. The city's Designated Outdoor Recreation Area was in effect for the event.

The food truck event was an obvious spur, but the DORA is "a godsend. It's saving us," said Huston, who took over the ownership of Hop Yard 62 in November.

"It's helping to bring people from out of town to visit the Town Center," he said. "They take a look at the shops and restaurants we have here and I think they're going to want to come back."

The volume of DORA cup sales is likely driven by special events and activities that are held in the Town Center, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

The special events draw more people to the downtown area, and patrons like the option of being able to buy and take their drinks to go, he said.

The Food Truck Festival will be held every two weeks on Friday evenings through Oct. 29, Furr said.

Dave McConaha of Grove City guides his granddaughter, Taylor Wilcox, 3, around a short wall during Heart of Grove City's first Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop of the season May 14.

Planning also is underway for the Wine and Arts Festival (June 18-19), Tacos & Tequila Festival (July 17) and Bourbon Tasting festival (Aug. 14.)

"We'll be having something special happening almost every weekend during the summer," Furr said.

The DORA will be in effect for each of the festivals, he said.

The DORA initially was in place only from 2 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays during the first year, Furr said.

Grove City Council approved legislation in May 2020 that extended the DORA to 2 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Saturdays.

Few negative issues have resulted from the DORA, Stage said.

"We've had a few complaints about littering, but that would be an issue anytime you have a lot of people in the Town Center," he said. "We're looking at adding more trash cans to the area."

There also has been a problem with people crossing Broadway in the middle of the street instead of using a crosswalk, Stage said.

"That's another problem that happens at any time," he said.

Huston said he and other bar and restaurant owners are being more vigilant about making sure to pick up the litter that might accumulate around their buildings.

One of the biggest concerns he has now is making sure Hop Yard 62 doesn't run out of DORA cups, he said.

"We just put in an order for 5,000 more cups," Huston said.

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