A Don’t Give Up Story
My friend Becky McCray, from Alva, Oklahoma is a great advocate for small towns.
Living and working in the relatively small town of Tweed Heads (pop. 7,525) I love reading Becky’s Small Biz Survival stories about how communities can challenge and beat the odds of demographic changes and the relentless push of the “bigger is better” mentality.
Today I want to tell a “small biz survival/revival” story from my part of the world, of how a group of small business people met a challenge and succeeded beyond most “sensible” expectations. It’s the story – or a part of it – about the Cooly Rocks On festival.
The local scene and a bit of festival history
Cooly Rocks on is an annual 50s and 60s nostalgia festival, focused on our “Twin Town” of Coolangatta (pop. 4,869) Queensland, on the southern end of the Gold Coast and divided from our town of Tweed Heads by a state border, rugby league football rivalries and various weird differences in State and local government regulations, different police forces etc. To someone driving through it looks like one town – hence the “Twin Towns” moniker.
When we arrived here ten years ago from the Smoke, we found a festival in full swing (literally) with vintage cars, bands in the street, Elvis impersonators and so on. That was the Wintersun festival, predecessor of Cooly Rocks On.
A few years ago it was announced that the Wintersun festival was de-camping to a town further south, in the State of New South Wales, thus deserting not only the local community but the State that had nurtured it.
Here’s where it got interesting.
A group of local small business people in Coolangatta got together and resolved that there would still be a festival. The name Wintersun had gone south with the original festival organiser, so there was a public competition for a new name. That’s where the name Cooly Rocks On came from – “Cooly” being a local abbreviation of the full name of the town Coolangatta.
One thing that fascinated me then and has done since was that even though the name did not include any reference to our town of Tweed Heads, there was from the outset a keenness to involve the community here too, so that it was not just a Coolangatta event. That of course made good sense insofar as a couple of big clubs on this side of the border are major venues for events during the festival week. I think the people in Tweed Heads just realised it was a great name for a festival that had risen from nothing to take the place of the one that had left town, and was/is very much about rock ‘n roll.
Now the festival is an institution – in a dynamic and evolving way.
The festival today
As I write, the festival is in full swing once more, the weather is glorious, the vintage cars are on display, the bands are rocking, people dancing in the streets. And, going on the way the festival has grown, I imagine the organisers would be expecting more than 80,000 people to be in town over these days.
To give a flavor of this, Australia’s biggest 50s and 60s nostalgia festival, I don’t think I can improve on the text from the website.
Over 2 kilometres of Rock ‘n roll, Rockabilly, Swing music and over 1,000 hot rods, custom cars and classic vehicles lining the stunning beachfront of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads all over two huge weeks from 30 May to 9 June.
Browse through over 100 retro market stalls and 100 craft market stalls; take your taste buds back to the 50s and 60s with vintage styled food and join in the atmosphere that draws over 80,000 people back year after year.
Music fills the venues, more retro cars roll up each day and the festival builds and builds, culminating in a Grand Finale weekend where the streets are closed down, the outdoor stages are moved in and the streets come alive with street parades, shows, displays, competitions and over 1,000 cars parading from Kirra to Tweed Heads each evening.
Imagine what that does for local business, especially in the hospitality field.
I doubt that many visitors, or locals for that matter, would have any idea of what a leap of faith, what a tenacious holding to a vision and sheer hard work, was involved for that group of local business people, just a few years ago, when the former festival left town.
If nothing had been done there would not have been another festival. Those thousands of visitors would not have been coming here from around Australia and from other countries too to enjoy our beautiful seaside Twin Towns and region.
Local businesses would not have had the annual injection of dollars this huge number of visitors, here to enjoy themselves, brings to town.
Small towns rule!
Do you have a small town business survival story? Please share.
Image credits: Car images by Des Walsh, CC BY-NC-SA, Flickr