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Film festival boosts businesses

The five-day Ashland Independent Film Festival had movie buffs flocking to theaters — and also local businesses.

The 12th annual festival, which opened on Thursday and wrapped up on Monday, featured 91 full-length and short films that screened in the Varsity Theatre downtown, the Historic Ashland Armory on Oak Street and Ashland Street Cinemas on the southeast end of town.

Data about film festival attendance is still being tabulated, but so far, attendance seems to be similar to last year's festival, with nearly 18,000 tickets distributed, according to Anne Ashbey, executive director of the festival.

More than half of the 144 screenings of the films were at capacity, and 80 percent of seats were filled, she said.

As the festival continues to receive and analyze audience survey data over the next few weeks, more details will emerge, Ashbey said.

Last year, 81 percent of attendees ate at restaurants, 39 percent shopped at retail stores, 11 percent visited galleries and 9 percent stayed at hotels, motels and bed and breakfast inns, according to Ashbey.

At Shakespeare Books & Antiques downtown, employee Arline Larson said quite a few film festival-goers came into the shop.

"I would say the film festival has a very positive effect on us and the town," Larson said.

The 250 Main clothing store also saw an increased number of people coming in, said co-owner Adrienne Adams.

"They were not necessarily buying, but they were looking. The downtown was definitely more crowded, especially in the restaurants," Adams said. "The film festival is wonderful. It brings a lot of people to town — people who love Ashland."

Adams said she recognized people coming into her store who had visited Ashland for past film festivals.

At Martolli's Pizzeria downtown, cashier Crista Minneci said the film festival brought increased business.

She said the pizzeria was especially busy on Friday night, when the film festival was running along with Ashland's First Friday Art Walk. The city of Ashland also had its dedication of the newly reconstructed downtown Plaza, which attracted a crowd of about 150 people.

"It was definitely a busy night, to say the least," Minneci said.

Music Coop co-owner Trina Brenes said the film festival's impact on her store's foot traffic was the biggest this year that it's ever been.

The Music Coop has been downtown for three years after it moved from an A Street location.

"Lots of people came in with bags from other stores," Brenes said. "They had been out shopping. It was wonderful in mid-April to see that many people in town up and down the street. It seemed like people were making a conscious effort to buy downtown."

Prize Owner Jennifer Streit said she also saw more people browsing in her downtown shop.

"It's really great how the film festival exposes Ashland to a wider audience and a creative crowd. It definitely makes everything better for the whole weekend because it's so busy," Streit said. "There's a buzz."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.