By Chris Schumerth, Spark writer in residence
Ever since seeing Spark “on the news,” Shawn Jones, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, walks to Monument Circle almost every day to play ping-pong and meet new people.
“I love my city,” Jones said, enthusiastically, as he sat with four others he’d just met — one celebrating her 30th birthday. Part of Jones’ routine, he said, is to stop in at Rocket Fizz to choose from the stores array of eclectic sodas.
Jones isn’t the only Spark participant who is frequenting Monument Circle eateries.
The owner of Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Chuck Brewer, said that while there’s no way to for him to be completely certain of which traffic comes from Spark, his store’s sales have increased up to 20 percent per week since the program began August 1. The consistent boost in sales has allowed him to hire two new workers to cover shifts.
Brewer pointed in particular to the green outdoor seating that Spark has placed around the Circle. He said the new outdoor seating has provided more seating inside his restaurant because a lot of customers have chosen to sit outside. “It’s a simple math equation,” Brewer said.
Soupremacy is right around the corner from Potbelly. Store Manager Danielle Shipley, who has worked at the restauarant since it opened, confirmed that while sometimes her restaurant’s location on one of Monument Circle’s “spokes” leads to less food traffic, Supremacy has also have seen increased sales of up to 10 percent per week since Spark began. The weekends, she said, have been especially busy, and she has noticed Spark workers frequenting her shop for meals.
Shipley also noted that Spark has brought positive publicity to a place that too often only gets negative media attention. And that spreads the perceptions outward to the city as a whole.
Both Shipley and Ernesto Small, an associate at The South Bend Chocolate Company – located just a few feet from Spark’s welcome trailer – mentioned that they’ve noticed a difference in the kind of traffic at Monument Circle. The Circle, they said, tends to get a lot of business and motorcyclist traffic. But they have recently noticed more families, young people, and tourists spending time there. The credit for bringing that crowd in, Shipley and Small said, goes to Spark.
Small has worked at The South Bend Chocolate Company for more than a year. He he has played chess outside on one of the Spark tables and has learned the names of Spark staffers. He doesn’t have access to the exact numbers, but he knows The South Bend Chocolate Company has seen increases in sales as well.
According to Small, several tourists recently visited The South Bend Chocolate Company en route to Minneapolis from Cincinnati. They had never been to Indianapolis before, but they were impressed by how inviting the Spark program made the Circle as a whole. Small said the guests told him it made them want to come back to Indianapolis.
Along the way, Spark has been surveying hundreds of visitors — both tourists and locals — and gathering data about how people are using the Circle. Spark will also work with nearby businesses to gather numbers to support the positive stories.
With Spark programming nearing its end this week, this leads to the question: what can or should be next for Monument Circle, particularly as Indianapolis makes decisions about how to program and design the Monument Circle area?
Jones, Brewer, Shipley, and Small all seemed to agree: they want more of what Spark has started.
“Spark is such a new and innovative idea,” said Brewer, who noted he’d be glad to see Spark return next year. “This has caused people to think differently about how to use public spaces.”