How Zombies Crawl, Walk and Dance Their Way Into Saving Your Downtown

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It started with a simple night out at a zombie flick in Minneapolis, Minn.. But after the movie, Chuck Terhark's friends began acting like zombies, which they thought was pretty funny.

Now they lead 30,000 people a year to benefit local businesses and charities -- and serve as an example for how zombies are changing the world for the better, especially in October.

Across the country, people are gearing up for zombie walks, runs, dances and zombie pub crawls like the one in the Terhark's West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Crawl
"We'd just gone on a pub crawl a couple of days earlier, which we thought was a pretty fun time," Terhark said. Then came the zombie movie. "We put two and two together and came up with Zombie Pub Crawl."

That pub crawl has grown from 150 zombies the first year to more than 30,000 last year, and the event now takes eight to nine months of planning.

Terhark expected the event would help local businesses in the West Bank. "The benefits to local businesses are enormous, most of the bars that are included in the crawl see their highest sales of the year on the day of the crawl," Terhark says. "One bar owner told us it is like adding another month to the calendar."

But for-profits aren't the only ones who benefit. two years ago, zombies started paying to participate, with proceeds going to help pay for security during the crawl as well as to charity.

Terhark says that in the past two years, approximately $10,000 has been raised for local charity. This year, the event will benefit 11 local charities. "Sometimes we choose charities thematically. For instance, in the past we've given to Alzheimer's research because 'Healthy brains taste better,'" Terhark says.

Dance
Staff at Dance with Me, a dance studio in Springfield, Mo., realized they were on to something when three years ago they publicized they would be teaching the dance from the Michael Jackson video Thriller and had such an overwhelming response they weren't able to put on the production in the studio. They moved it to the street and C Street Zombie Corps was born.

The dance studio has coordinated class schedules to learn the dance, so about 150 people actually participate in the dance -- watched by 2,000. The event helps bring awareness to the Commercial Street Historic District and raises money for charities.

The show has grown so large that organizers have created two times for the dance so spectators can get a good view. "We don't have any hard numbers on the impact of the day on the local businesses," says Donnie Rodgers Jr., community development coordinator for the Urban Districts Alliance. "Events like this serve as a good promotion and introduction to area businesses that can be felt long after a two-hour event."

Walk
Fort Wayne, Ind., was expecting 10,000 zombies to show up for its Fright Night Zombie Walk this year, up from 6,000 last year. The Downtown Improvement District coordinates the event, along with several downtown venues and businesses.

"The purpose of Fright Night is to generate visitor traffic downtown," says Courtney Tritch, who came up with the idea of the walk. "You need to connect with the young professional demographic, as they are the ones with the means and time to hang out downtown."

Tritch says the Fright Night event was targeted originally to families, but she wanted to reach out to the young professionals to make them aware of the businesses in the downtown area. The evening now kicks off with the zombie walk, which is friendly for all demographics, and branches out to separate events targeted to specific demographics, helping businesses from restaurants and bars to retail.

"We parade thousands of people down the street directly in front of businesses, which generates awareness for them," Tritch says. "The restaurants are packed that night. It's a great way for people to try out downtown venues that they may not have experienced before."

Fritz Hoffman, general manager at J.K. O'Donnell's in downtown Fort Wayne, says his restaurant is just not that busy on a typical Saturday night evening at 5:30, but on the weekend of the zombie walk, business picks up and stays steady throughout the evening.

"I don't have hard numbers, but a lot of people definitely come downtown for the event, and it has grown every year," Hoffman says. "It does bring forces downtown."

As long as the zombies are there to spend their money and eat other things on the menu -- and not humans -- that can never be a bad thing for business.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is an Arkansas-based journalist who writes for TheStreet and MainStreet on personal finance, small business and leisure/travel issues.

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