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Jeep festival emerges as powerhouse for local businesses

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Melvin Tuck recounts his experiences with the Jeep during a 74th anniversary commemorating the Bantam Jeep at the VA Butler Healthcare in Butler Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Tuck, 84, served in the Army National Guard 1949-52 and following his discharge, he purchased a 1947 Jeep.

Whether customers are former residents indulging in a bit of nostalgia, or new visitors to Butler looking to sample local cuisine, the general manager of The Burger Hut said he expects a hearty business this weekend, thanks to the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival.

“We'll do at least 50 percent more business than we usually do,” Ryan Covert said. “There's a lot of people down there.”

In just four years, the annual Jeep festival has become an economic powerhouse in Butler County. It's expected to generate more than $1.2 million in local spending from Friday to June 15, including hotel rooms, restaurants and related purchases, tourism officials said.

Downtown Butler businesses will benefit most from Friday's “Jeep Invasion,” a street party along the downtown's Main Street, said Stan M. Kosciuszko, president of the Butler County Chamber of Commerce. Most events Saturday and Sunday will be at Cooper's Lake Campground next to Moraine State Park.

“Globally, for Butler County, the Jeep festival means a lot,” Kosciuszko said.

“It brings a lot of notoriety to Butler County. For businesses downtown, those that take advantage of the Jeep festival, about 80 percent, it really is a boon night for them.”

Some restaurants, Kosciuszko said, have run out of food on previous invasion nights.

The festival celebrates the birthplace of the Jeep, the iconic American vehicle first developed for use by the Army during World War II. American Bantam Car Co. manufactured the vehicle in Butler County.

The festival is expected to draw between 25,000 and 30,000 this year, said Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau.

In 2013, the event drew 1,557 registered Jeeps and more than 15,000 attendees. By the end of preregistration on May 18, there were 1,438 registered Jeeps, according to event organizers, though that number always grows by the time of the festival.

“Everybody understands the pride they should have in a piece of equipment manufactured in Butler County,” Cohen said.

“For the entire region, it had an impact in World War II. It is a unique piece of history.”

The bureau has calculated the impact the festival has on the county based on the number of hotel rooms rented in the area, and mercantile taxes and other data.

Festival director Patti Jo Lambert said there are more than 400 hotel nights reserved, and more than 1,500 campers expected.

Event organizers spend more than $200,000 to stage the festival, Lambert said, much of that locally.

For example, she said, Fairground Market in Prospect caters the “Great Pig Out” buffet on Saturday for 1,000 people.

The festival bought more than 2,000 T-shirts from Classic Ink Screenprinting in Connoquenessing, Lambert said.

Lambert added that the festival will have extra people on hand this year to direct traffic off Currie Road in Worth into the festival, as there were backups on the road last year.

Organizers don't expect traffic problems on nearby Interstate 79 and Route 422, despite ongoing construction there.

More information is available about the festival events at http://www.bantamjeepfestival.com/

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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