Niles business owners report record sales during Hunter Ice Festival

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT — Niles Main Street estimates that more than 20,000 people visited downtown Niles during the Hunter Ice Festival Friday through Sunday.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT — Niles Main Street estimates that more than 20,000 people visited downtown Niles during the Hunter Ice Festival Friday through Sunday.

Seating capacity at the The Nuggett reached capacity just 15 minutes after opening Saturday during the Hunter Ice Festival.

Manager Wynter Dulemba said business remained that way until the Niles restaurant closed, before picking up where it left off on Sunday.

“It was amazing,” she said. “We had great sales.”

Other downtown business owners are reporting similar experiences during Niles’ annual winter festival, which ran Friday through Sunday in the city’s downtown area.

Veni’s Sweet Shop owner Linda Swarcan said they had record traffic all three days.

“We were jam-packed,” she said. “If there was a fire code limit we probably broke it.”

Pizza Transit owner Sarah Brittin said sales on Saturday were the best in 29 years of business, breaking the old record by nearly 20 percent.

“Business was outstanding for the festival,” she said.

Daysha Amster, owner of Olfactory Hue Bistro, said sales boomed at her restaurant as well.

“It was unbelievable with people flooding the streets and coming in and out,” she said. “People were happy and having fun and the weather was perfect.”

The Hunter Ice Festival, now in its 12th year, is organized by Niles Main Street.

It features dozens and dozens of professionally carved ice sculptures that are placed throughout the downtown area in addition to several other family-friendly activities.

Niles Main Street Program Manager Lisa Croteau estimated attendance at 20,000 or more — making it one of the most well attended events ever.

Croteau said she has talked to nearly all of the downtown business owners and most said they had really good sales over the weekend.

“It’s a doubly good year,” Croteau said. “They (visitors) spent money, which is the whole purpose of the festival, and the town looked beautiful.”

Croteau attributes the good attendance to a combination of mild weather, publicity and the high-caliber of the professional ice sculptors.

“When people come they see things they normally don’t get to see,” she said. “It is world-class art.”

A popular item at the festival is Hunter Ice Cream, which is made once a year and typically only sold during that weekend. Croteau said they sold out of ice cream by 1:30 p.m. Sunday and did well selling other items, like ice-festival buttons and tickets for the chili crawl/contest.

Sanya Phillips, director of community development for Niles, said more than 700 people visited the Niles History Center’s Chapin Mansion and Fort St. Joseph Museum during the weekend.

Massimo’s Pizza/Backside Bar won judge’s choice in the chili contest. El Amigo Pepe won people’s choice, while Niles High School’s pork chili finished second and Jim’s Smokin’ Cafe third.

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