Corn Palace officials hoping to recover from 2020's drop in visitor numbers

Sam Fosness, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·3 min read

Apr. 13—What was the pandemic's effects on visitors coming to Mitchell's biggest tourist attraction?

The Corn Palace experienced a 27% decrease in visitors in 2020 compared to 2019. In total, there were roughly 272,000 visitors in 2020, which is about 100,000 fewer visitors than the 371,000 in 2019.

A significant number of large events that were on deck in the spring of 2020 were cancelled due to the pandemic, including the AAU youth wrestling tournament, Oak Ridge Boys concert, Wingapalooza and the state Pedal Pull tournament, to name a few.

"We also closed for a period of time during COVID-19, so we were bracing for a substantial drop," said Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway during a recent board meeting. "From March to May, we had a 93% decrease compared to the previous year. We had 15 large events that were cancelled in that time frame, so that had a substantial impact to say the least."

Prior to the pandemic hitting the area in early March of 2020, things were going well at the Corn Palace. From January to March 16, there were 55,000 visitors, marking a 20% increase from the same time span in the previous year.

"We were on our way to having a much higher year in 2020 until COVID-19 hit," Greenway said.

Despite the significant drop in visitors, Greenway is optimistic for a rebound this year with the number of events that are on deck this summer. He pointed to the new corn hole tournament the Corn Palace is hosting, along with the Palace Pre-Sturgis Party and Corn Palace Festival, which are both slated for August, as events that could spur more visitors in 2021.

Looking at the numbers from the first American Corn Hole Association event that recently wrapped up over the past weekend, Greenway deemed it a success. The three-day corn hole tournament brought about 1,200 people, including players and spectators, and generated a nice boost of revenue for the Corn Palace, as Greenway said alcohol sales came in a little over $4,000 during the three-day tournament.

The next corn hole event at the Corn Palace is slated for May 14-15.

"The event went very well, and we feel it could grow and make some nice money in the future. We had the world's number-one ranked corn hole player compete as well, so it was really fun to see the event succeed," Greenway said. "Concession sales were kind of poor, but quite honestly, these folks drank their breakfast, lunch and dinner, so alcohol sales helped that."

With the lineup of major music artists headline the Corn Palace Festival that's scheduled for late August, Greenway is hopeful for a "great turnout." After cancelling last year's performance for the festival, the popular country music band, Whiskey Myers, will be among the major artists headlining the festival.

Another big time artist performing at this year's festival will be Johnny Rivers, who is slated to kick off the music entertainment on Thursday night, while Whiskey Myers is on board to play the Friday show. To close out the 2021 festival music performances, Blackhawk will take the stage on Saturday night. Greenway said tickets will go on sale June 1.