2018-08-09 / Community

Caseville talks state of Cheeseburger festival

By Ben Muir

CASEVILLE – The Cheeseburger festival captures a different response depending on who you ask – a business owner sees foot traffic, a council member sees economic value, a police chief sees his department outnumbered and downtown residents might see congestion – but most of them hope that above all the allure is sustained heading into the 20th year.

Mayor Patricia Des Jardins said the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival, approaching its 20th anniversary, creates a staunch ratio of residents to visitors.

“What amazes me,” Des Jardins said, “is anywhere on a Wednesday night at 5 p.m., with 700 people in the city, you have probably 30,000-40,000 people on our one-mile main drag.”

Gary Horkey, known as ‘Mr. Cheeseburger’ by some, has been nearly every year, and he estimates there could be up to 80,000 visitors for the parade. His wife, Laura, the city treasurer, is known as ‘Mrs. Cheeseburger.’

“To us,” she said. “It’s just fun. And it’s our livelihood in this town.”

A dramatic uptick in population during the 10-day span means a tall order for the Caseville Police Department, which, along with part-time help from state troopers and county sheriff’s deputies, will only have about four full-time officers patrolling the streets.

Police Chief Kyle Romzek said his department has made between 15-30 arrests each year since he started a half-decade ago.

“It’s a lot of people in a small area,” Romzek said. “For us, it’s just about dealing with them, and we don’t have a lot of help to do it.”

Jim Smith has lived in Caseville for every Cheeseburger festival. He often avoids downtown during the event, but he appreciates what it does for businesses, and he hopes the turnout can be sustained.

“There’s no doubt about it that it’s a shot in the arm for the local businesses,” Smith said. “The area down here does get congested, but I’ll find other ways to get through town. I think it’s a great thing for the community.”

Another Caseville resident, Derek Guster, said he lives close to downtown. He said those who love Cheeseburger don’t live as close to the action and noise.

“If I lived outside of town,” Guster said, “I would love Cheeseburger, too.”

City Councilman Todd Talaski focuses on what the festival does for children. On the first Sunday of the festival, he said, there is a free kids’ day that offers rides, games, snacks and refreshments.

“You do hear about the late-time negativity about alcohol,” Talaski said. “But there are a lot of great things for kids as well.”

Clint Braun, another council member, stressed that many local businesses would not be able to operate without the Cheeseburger festival.

“You have basically a 90-day window from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Braun said. “And that’s the time you make your money. And without Cheeseburger, a lot of businesses just wouldn’t survive.”

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