Concerns over Cool Desert Nights

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Cool Desert Nights attracts thousands to downtown Richland every summer. The car show and dance can be a big moneymaker for local businesses. But one local shop owner is a bit dismayed by some of the changes.

Rick Ornstein has fond memories of the past street dances set up for Cool Desert Nights.

"In the past when the families came, they could buy ice cream, popcorn, barbecue, hotdogs," he says.

But not anymore.

Bad weather and low turnout cost the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce $16,000 in a single year recently. So the event moved to the Jack-Son's parking lot on George Washington Way.

As the owner of the cigar shop in Richland's Atomic Bowl, Rick says the new location has changed the whole feel. Now affiliated with a bar, it's only open to those 21 and over.

"A lot of people would like to see a street dance open to everybody again," he says.

Rick says other vendors are also frustrated the food sales are now limited to Jack-Son's. That was the trade-off when the restaurant took on the liability of hosting the event, rain or shine.

"It's just a shame that it couldn't have stayed where it originally was. It worked out wonderful for everybody involved," says Jack-Son's owner Chuck Fisher.

Rick and other business owners are looking into alternatives to the Jack-Son's beer garden for the dance that originated in city parks. The Chamber welcomes the idea.

"We're certainly open to other venues or partnering with other chamber members on different activities as well, so we look forward to hearing from people about that," says Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Lori Mattson.

Rick thinks there's an audience for both events on the same night and hopes to return the dance to its roots.

"I'm not saying there's not a place for the Jack-Sons event, It's, I'm sure, a good event, but not during Cool Desert Nights. That's a community event; the street dance needs to be a community event again," he says.

The alternative event would be around the Atomic Bowl. There's nothing set for sure at this point. Owners say they're exploring options.