Chapel Hill's incredible shrinking Halloween | Orange County | Indy Week
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Chapel Hill's incredible shrinking Halloween 

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⇒ See also: "Make your own costume"

There won't be as many people dressed up as Eric Clapton for Halloween on Franklin Street this year. After midnight, they're going to shut the whole thing down. The street will be cleared, and you can then file into a bar, which will charge you a $5 cover, but you have to be inside before 1 a.m. You can't get in or come back in after that. That's if you are lucky enough to get downtown in the first place, and you probably won't be able to unless you live within walking distance of Franklin Street.

This is the second year of Homegrown Halloween in Chapel Hill, a locals-only version of what had become a statewide tradition that has been scaled down due to concerns about public safety. Mayor Kevin Foy rolled out this year's program, which has support from UNC Student Body President Jasmine Jones, along with downtown business owners.

"In order to manage this event, we discourage visitors to Halloween this year," Foy says in a town-produced YouTube video that concludes with him vanishing in a cloud of smoke to the sound of a creepy carnival organ.

"We don't want to see an uncomfortably large number of people squeezed into our small downtown as we have experienced in previous Halloweens. These large gatherings present many public safety concerns, including increased crime, crowd panic and fights, not to mention the seriousness of alcohol poisoning and gang violence. And this year we have the additional concern of H1N1 flu."

Police will set up alcohol checkpoints on the perimeter. Downtown-bound streets and lanes will close at 7 p.m. You can't find parking, you can't take a shuttle, you can't ride a charter buses. ("Charter buses entering the downtown Chapel Hill area will be directed by law enforcement officers to the outskirts of Town prior to dropping off any passengers," the town's Web site says.) And the town has also dashed any hopes of an extra hour of Halloween when daylight saving time kicks in at 2 a.m.: Chapel Hill joins Arizona and Hawaii in not setting back its clocks one hour. (Although, unlike the two states, Chapel Hill will reset its clocks after the event ends.)

The list of prohibitions could curb what had become an 80,000-person event in a town of 51,519. Last year, restrictions reduced the crowd to 35,000. This year, town officials are aiming for 15,000.

There were also fewer arrests last year, according to police: five compared with 13 in 2007. Alcohol overdose calls were down from 31 to 18.

A shrunken Halloween also costs less. In 2007, it cost $221,490 to host the event. Last year's curtailed version totaled $203,957.

DSI Comedy Theater Executive Producer and owner Zach Ward, a Chapel Hill native, finds the town's party pooping as a lost advertising opportunity. Ward can remember Halloweens from the mid-1990s that attracted revelers from Asheville and Charlotte. That made Chapel Hill "iconic," Ward said, adding that the large number of people and creative costumes made the town "hip and progressive."

He says last year's traffic restrictions hurt his Carrboro-based theater by keeping patrons who'd bought tickets online from parking at Carr Mill Mall. Now he worries what message leaders are sending.

"What the town doesn't understand, because all they see is a budget item for the police force and extra security and cleanup, is this bureaucratic separation from the word-of-mouth advertising the social event that Halloween represents," said Ward. "Instead of thinking about how can we capitalize on this event that's reached a peak in statewide interest, it's a small-town mentality of 'This is too big, we need to restrict it. We need to kick people out.' This is why Chapel Hill is losing business, storefronts are staying empty, and people choose not to live in Chapel Hill. People move to Durham."

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