It’s a balmy Tuesday evening on the banks of the St. Croix River, and for hundreds of people gathered in Stillwater’s Lowell Park, that means one thing:
Time to celebrate.
As vendors hawk snacks and drinks, and boutique businesses show off their merchandise under colorful tents, children swarm about freely and adults kick back on the grass to listen to live music. Come dusk, a large movie screen goes up, too, featuring popular, family-friendly flicks such as “The Karate Kid” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
So goes Summer Tuesdays, a festive community event that takes place each Tuesday starting at 5 p.m. in Stillwater for seven weeks in July and August.
This summer, the weekly gathering is being held on the waterfront just south of the Stillwater Lift Bridge, offering boat owners the unique opportunity to anchor nearby and watch a movie from the comfort of their boats.
“We always run into a lot of people we know and the kids seem to have a good time,” said Julie Cronk, whose family attends as many “Tuesdays” as it can throughout the summer. “We come to the market and listen to the music and try to stay for the movie, if we can.”
Cory Buettner, an event organizer, said about 400 to 500 people come and go over the course of the evening, with the crowd dwindling to a few hundred by the time the movie starts.
In the case of poor weather, Buettner said, the market and movie are canceled, with the music moving indoors to Charlie’s Irish Pub in the Water Street Inn.
But this summer, the weather hasn’t been a problem.
“Fortunately, we’ve had unbelievably beautiful, perfect weather every Tuesday,” Buettner said. “We haven’t had to cancel anything and it looks like the last few Tuesdays this month are going to be nice.”
Local sponsors fund the event, with additional support from attendees who toss money into a donation hat each week, Buettner said. The money pays for the public movie screening, which can cost $400 to $500, use of the park and parking lot rental fees and the live music.
Throwing a party
In 2010, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, which previously managed the event, wanted to move it away from construction projects in or near the park to the Historic Washington County Courthouse.
Buettner, who owns Leo’s Malt Shop, near Lowell Park, said that was just the motivation he and others needed to take over the event and keep it in the downtown business district.
“Events like this help keep downtown vibrant,” Buettner said. “And it’s a super fun way for me to give back to the community — we get to throw a party for our friends and community.”
Buettner, along with Cassie McLemore, co-founder of Cuckoo Productions, and Chuck Dougherty, owner of the Water Street Inn, formed Summer Tuesdays Inc., a nonprofit organization that has run the event in Lowell Park for the past four years.
Each week, Summer Tuesdays Inc. teams with a different local volunteer or nonprofit organization, which keeps 50 percent of profits made from a concession stand that the groups manage. The collaboration also enables the featured organization to promote their program in the community, Buettner said.
Rebecca Bednar, who brings her family to the event every week, said it is important for her family to attend regardless of what is happening in their lives. “I changed my work schedule to come to this,” she said.
In early July, Bednar’s father passed away. The next day, Bednar learned that her plans to adopt a child fell through. Bednar and her family were devastated, she said. Still, with encouragement from friends, she attended Summer Tuesdays the following week.
“It was so amazing,” Bednar said. “The whole community surrounded us and we felt so much love and support. You can’t come here and not feel the sense of community. I love Stillwater so much. Things like this make me never want to leave.”
Callie Sacarelos is a Twin Cities freelance writer