Millennials are a new and strange generation in a new and strange world. They make us older folk glad that smart phones and all-absorbing video games didn’t exist when we were young – think of all the things we would have missed. Millennials are such a unique generation that even their boundaries can’t be defined. The best guess is that they include people between the ages of 18 and 34.
And like it or not, old-timers (again, I’m including myself), they own the future. Whatever we might want our community to be thirty years from now, it will be whatever they want it to be or it won’t be at all. They are the generation currently producing the next generation and they are doing so here less and less.
When we talk to people who have achieved community revitalization elsewhere, it is constantly reiterated that if you want to grow or even maintain, you have to be attractive to Millennials. Technology has made this group less social, at least in traditional ways. If you want to get them to think of your community as a destination, you need things like craft brew and coffee shops. If you want to interest them in community events, you need to serve beer. Not that they’re any more inclined to imbibe, they just happen to be of that age and less rooted – more susceptible to the attractions of the big city and less likely to return home once gone than previous generations.
I understand and appreciate the arguments against beer tents at community events. I think everyone does. But to begin a counterargument, one that will no doubt earn me a good share of derision on next week’s opinion page, let me proffer every Catholic town you can think of. They all have huge festivals with beer tents where the entire community turns out, those drinking and those not drinking, and defying the demographics of Northwest Ohio, they are all growing in population.
The Wren Homecoming Whiffleball Tournament is the only thing in county that compares, and it sells beer. The Van Wert County Fair used to be our main community event and still gets passable attendance from us older folk and from the young kids who have the rides. What is almost entirely missing from the fair crowd are Millennials, and that spells certain long-term trouble. The concerts at Fountain Park are well attended without beer but those are spectator events more than social events and also don’t draw Millennials.
Some church groups are opposed to beer tents at our festivals and that is understandable, but think of the missed opportunity. The primary goal of most Christian organizations is ministry and outreach. Where better to do that than at a beer tent? Locating a soul in turmoil there is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Drunk drivers? No one wants to drive anywhere close to drunk if they have a choice. Religious groups could provide that choice and a ride home is a perfect mission opportunity. Someone who has had too much to drink is going to wake up in the morning with a headache, automatically rethinking their most recent decisions. As they ponder their life’s course, what better time to come across the pamphlet they were handed while getting out of the car from the Good Samaritan who provided them a ride home the night before?
Not having beer at our events does not prevent drinking, it just drives it different places. Perhaps the upper crust might go to the Country Club or the Elks and others go to bars. Many just stay at home where the prospects of a domestic incident increase with every swig. But nowhere is there someone wanting a drink not having one and nowhere will they interact with a tempering influence. Beer tents mix the sober and the drinking populations and enable their interaction. When the eyes of the community are on you, you are less likely to get to the point of buffoonery, unless you are, in fact, a buffoon for which there is no known cure anyway.
If you haven’t been to small town events with beer tents, this weekend is the Delphos Canal Days. On October 1, Van Wert Main Street will host the Outhouse Races and Chili Cook-off – beer won’t be sold on public property but will be available at a couple of stores off to the side. The next day, October 2, take a drive down to Minster, run the 10k, and then experience perhaps the best small town Octoberfest in the Midwest.
And what happens the next day in Minster? Everyone gets up, goes to work and school. Most have new fond memories of their hometown from a community event that no one from there would ever miss, even the Millennials, and it all continues to grow.