By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
HAMTRAMCK (CBS Detroit) It almost didn’t happen, but residents of this blue-collar town couldn’t let their generations-long Labor Day family tradition go by the wayside.
Many of them have already lost too much.
So with sweat equity, bartering and ingenuity, Hamtramck city officials, business owners and other volunteers made the 2012 Hamtramck Labor Day happen after cancellation was threatened due to lack of funds. The “Blue Collar Bash” is set for noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 through Monday, Sept. 3, complete with a carnival, live music, art fair, Polish Day parade, kids’ games, food and drinks, eating contests, a canoe race, and more.
So, how did it come together?
“The carnival and some of the people who’ve done it in the past, they basically fronted us the money to keep it going, and we trimmed back some of the expenditures of this thing that had gotten out of hand, we just went through the books and trimmed everything we thought we didn’t need,” explained festival co-chair Shannon Lowell, owner of Hamtramck’s Cafe 1923. He’s leading the event with Konrad Naziaraz.
“We got a lot more volunteer efforts, people gave time, and people have called in their friends to make this happen, give a bang for the buck. A lot of people worked on this, a lot of people,” Lowell added.
Hamtramck, a small Detroit border town that grew alongside the auto industry boom in the early part of the 20th Century, is battling a budget deficit as home prices sink and businesses close. Its struggling school district is under the control of an emergency financial manager.
The Labor Day festival was in jeopardy earlier this summer, when organizers thought they wouldn’t have enough money for the 32-year-old event. Organizers hoped to raise $20,000 through the website Kickstarter — and that effort failed, with less than $2,000 in contributions.
Darren Grow, the Executive Director of the Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority, said the festival was originally created in 1980 by former Mayor Robert Kozaren after the city’s Dodge Main factory closed its doors.
“The festival was started as a way to rally the community during a tough economic time in the ‘80s and it would be a real shame to see it come to an end this way,” Grow said in a press release.
The festival was never focused on making money, but the businesses and restaurants surrounding the festival benefit from the celebration, he added. “For the businesses in the vicinity, it’s one of the biggest weekends of the year,” Grow said.
When money couldn’t be raised, Lowell, Naziaraz and their cohorts made a deal with the carnival company to collect their money only after ticket sales came in, they got a local business to create the website, others to volunteer to put together events, plan the parade, organize the contests — and it was suddenly ready.
“Up until July, we didn’t even know if it was going to happen … I just want to say it’s the volunteer effort that’s sponsoring this thing,” Lowell said. “Once enough youthful energy came to the top, it all came together.
To capitalize on burgeoning crowds at Royal Oak’s Arts, Beats & Eats, the Detroit Bus Company is providing free transportation from AB &E to Hamtramck throughout the day Sunday and Monday.
— Eric Czajka contributed to this post.