The week after Mule Day always has a certain feel to it, when the animals are packed up, the wagons and campers are loaded and people start making their journeys home.
That is, until next year.
In Columbia, it’s a time when the streets get cleaned, the non-Mule Day locals come out of hiding and the city returns back to normal. It’s definitely a feeling that’s been present after this year’s return.
Yet, that’s only proof that Mule Day 2022 was a good one, and having Mule Day come back after everything that’s been going on in the world, there was something a little more to it this year. Part of the excitement, I think, was that it was a lot of people’s first Mule Day, considering how many of them probably moved here post-pandemic, not to mention all of the businesses that have opened.
With the success of Mule Day 2022, which drew more than 100,000 visitors this year, one thing I’m curious about is how much revenue the festival generated, which is still being determined.
Part of the curiosity is rooted in what kind of response Mule Day received after a two-year hiatus, but it’s more about how it will ultimately benefit the city’s overall finances.
One of the more surprising things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic was how Columbia managed to maintain good financial reporting. This was during the times when businesses were shutting down, people were out of work and for two years Columbia was without one of its largest annual revenue sources.
It’ll take some time before those numbers are released, from ticket sales to auction items, as well as hotel/motel businesses. And we had one of the largest First Fridays ever this month, helping local retailers and restaurants.
And it wasn’t just local businesses and the city’s general fund that Mule Day benefited, but also nonprofits, the ones that provide service and care to locals who need it most.
Prior to Saturday’s Mule Day Parade, more than 500 runners participated in this year’s Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot, which raised an estimated $30,000 for Maury Regional Health Foundation’s mobile medical unit. The race not only showed support by people wishing to live healthier lifestyles, but also contributed to the health of those who might not be able to afford things like health insurance.
This year also brought the first of what I hope will be many post-parade parties at The Mulehouse, a free concert showcasing local bands on what’s arguably become Columbia’s grandest of stages.
There is no doubt that this year’s return of Mule Day was a bonified success, not just with attendance and the money generated throughout the week. It was in how after all these decades, with all the traditions and things Mule Day goers come to expect, there are still new things to experience, and certainly room to grow even bigger in 2023.
My hope is that the activity downtown and throughout the city expands, perhaps a food truck festival at Riverwalk Park and more live music, almost as if last year’s Maury MuleFest with Trace Adkins combines with the traditional Mule Day events, First Fridays and the parade for one giant extravaganza.
If that’s the direction Mule Day is heading, we’ll definitely need fireworks.
Jay Powell is a reporter for The Daily Herald. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JayPowellCDH.