Hamtramck has always been seen as Detroit's little brother, so to speak. It's a city that has amazing people and even more amazing things to offer the world, but for some reason, it remains a diamond in the rough. Perhaps one of the most diverse cities in Michigan (dare we say the Midwest), Hamtramck attracts people from all over for a multitude of reasons. Maybe you go there on the weekend because it holds the most bars per square mile in the country. Maybe you go because you have a strong liking for pierogi and Srodek's sausages. Whatever reason you go to Hamtramck, the important thing is that you simply go.
Kathleen Bittner and Rachel Srodek want to see to it that the masses continue to huddle in Hamtown. Taking over the festival last year, Bittner says that it was important for them to rekindle the spirit of the festival and continue to give the public a reason to visit. Bittner took a few minutes to chat with RDW about the ins and outs of the festival and the spirit of Hamtramck.
With so many other festivals and events Labor Day weekend, why should someone choose to go to Hamtramck?
I think the Hamtramck festival has always had this realness to it; it's always been just a real down to earth – I don't want to say it's a people's fair, but it is – it's put on by the people for the people, it's not corporate run. It definitely has that flavor when you come. Rachel and I are the organizers and you see us picking up trash the whole weekend. I think that Hamtramck is an island in its own. The music lineup is great. We have celebrity bartenders this year from all the different local bars in Hamtramck because we have a tribute to Bob Kozaren, who's actually the founder of the Hamtramck Labor Day festival and he was the longest running mayor. We have a whole tribute bar to him and everyone who knew him and was there to see the first festival will be bartending that one. The festival has deep meaning for the people in Hamtramck and always has because I think Hamtramck needed that big party every year to kinda reinvent themselves and show the world that we're still here, we still got it. That's really why Rachel and I took it over. We decided that we're invested in Hamtramck; we both have businesses, we grew up here, we plan on being here for the rest of our lives hopefully, so we definitely have an investment in making this festival great. And showing people during that one weekend how great Hamtramck is and hopefully getting them not just come back for festivals, but to make it Project Hamtramck and make people understand why it's so great to live here. It attracts a lot of people who used to live in Hamtramck. It has a lot of nostalgia to it. It was that real deep meaning and hearts of a lot of people that the festival was started for.
What are some things your adding to the festival this year? What are some things you hope to add on in the future?
Our theme this year is Motown, so everything's got a Motown flavor to it. Actually, last year was quite a challenge because we only had nine weeks to do it, but we did have full support from the city, which meant they paid for all the security – which is about a third of the whole budget. This year they relinquished the festival, so we have to make up for the $20,000, so we had to cut back. We took off the campground this year because we just didn't have the money to pay for it, so next year we hope to bring that campground back because we had a lot of people who wanted to do it. We brought back the Hamtramck Yacht Club canoe races. Because of the number of bars in Hamtramck, they always included them in the festival, so they had this relay race that's almost like the bed races at Wayne State. It's funny. It's meant to be more of a show; it takes place on Joseph Campeau and each bar builds a land canoe. We give them a lifeguard and and we make it as legitimate as we can. It gives the bars something to compete for and to give them an interest in being a part of the festival. And it's huge. Tons of fun. People are out there with water buckets, it's great. We give away a yacht steering wheel. Last year we started a pub-crawl for the younger people more so, because at 10 o'clock when the festival ends people don't wanna just go home. We have the Night Move bus that picks you up right from the festival, everything is free, you hop on that bus and it takes you to all 15-20 bars in Hamtramck and that's happening Saturday and Sunday. This one's 100 percent free. You just get on; it's safe. They'll drop you right back off. We have additional parking this year, it's only $5 parking so if you can't find street parking, and the city doesn't ticket anybody that weekend, so you an find street parking, but if you can't we have designated parking at Mitchell and Caniff that will be open.
You mentioned having businesses in Hamtramck. Can you talk a bit about your involvement and interest in the city?
My mom and father, as a family, we own the Polish Art Center and it's a polish import store and we've been there for 38 years. I've been working there since I was born pretty much. And we're right in the festival area and we've seen the changes the city's gone through. It's really what you make of your business that draws those people. Everyone complained that Hamtramck's not bringing in the right kind of people anymore; we felt that it wasn't that the festival wasn't bringing them in, it was that the festival wasn't giving them a reason to come in. We felt that it was the opportunity to make this festival everything we always wanted it to be and they gave us all the reign to do that. We kinda turned the page a little bit and brought in things that would attract a different crowd of people and it was very successful last year in doing that. We tried to make it more youthful, that's why last year we had a campground. We wanted to turn it into, not just a festival that would attract people locally, but also a festival that would attract people from all over the Midwest, make it a destination place. We also have the Glump-K every year, which is a 5K run, which adds some fun to it. If someone doesn't want to come to the festival those three days, there's other events connected to the festival that they can participate in. | RDW