Media

Supercrawl and the Newsworthy Outlier

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 27, 2010

Bruce Schneier, the well-known American security expert, wrote an essay in 2005 on the question of whether and how the news media should report incidents of terrorism. One passage in particular jumps out:

One of the things I routinely tell people is that if it's in the news, don't worry about it. By definition, "news" means that it hardly ever happens. If a risk is in the news, then it's probably not worth worrying about. When something is no longer reported - automobile deaths, domestic violence - when it's so common that it's not news, then you should start worrying.

It was with this sentiment in mind that I read today's Spectator report on last Saturday's Supercrawl, in which the journalist managed to find the only person on James Street who didn't have a great time.

Ventura's Signature Restaurant's owner, Virgilio Ventura, said the monthly art crawls have been bad for business.

On average, Ventura makes about $1,500 Friday nights. On art crawl nights, he barely makes $200. And his regular customers also don't come out on art crawl days because there's no parking available, he said.

Ventura's restaurant was relatively empty during Supercrawl. "People eat food (they buy) on the street," he said. "Today, there's nobody. (Saturday) is the day I make money."

I've argued in the past that balance is a false journalistic value. It is misleading to give two sides of an argument equal weight if the weight of actual evidence is unequal. If one group of people believes the earth is round and another believes the earth is flat, the correct approach is not to report: "Opinions differ as to the shape of the earth."

However, as Schneier notes, the practice of journalism is the practice of reporting outliers. A story, by definition, is something unusual enough that it's worth noting. If 19,999 people loved the Supercrawl and one person hated it, that one outlier is inevitably going to attract disproportionate attention.

So here are a few shots of non-outliers at Supercrawl. Warning: it may not be newsworthy to point out that these people had a good time.

Non-outliers at Supercrawl
Non-outliers at Supercrawl

People having an unremarkably good time listening to Elliot Brood
People having an unremarkably good time listening to Elliot Brood

A police officer not required to fend off angry protesters outside the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse
A police officer not required to fend off angry protesters outside the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse

Somebody needed to tell these people they were allowed to walk on the street
Somebody needed to tell these people they were allowed to walk on the street

These party-goers are not too surprised to kick it old school with Cadence Weapon and DJ Co-op
These party-goers are not too surprised to kick it old school with Cadence Weapon and DJ Co-op

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:09:30

I love it when you've hit the bull's-eye.

Thanks for this little gem.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:11:53

Interesting, I've always chatted with people going into his restaurant during the evenings of Art Crawl.

If he's not able to attract customers on those evenings, then he must rethink his marketing strategy - Acclaimation doesn't seem to have any difficulty packing the house.

The Japanese buffet is always lined up out the door.

I brought a friend from Toronto to Supercrawl Saturday. It was her first visit to Hamilton and she'll be back for another art crawl in the near future.

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By JM (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:13:43

funny..... i tried to go to that exact restaurant yesterday (been many times), but they were closed for a private family dinner. not to sound rude, but why complain about attracting business when you turn customers away?

JM

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By skully2001 (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:17:29

My wife and I brought our daughter down to the SuperCrawl, and we had a brilliant time. Having moved to Hamilton from Toronto, I was blown away by the vibrancy and energy. Next year we're going to get a babysitter and make a night of it with friends...The Arts is, indeed, the new steel...

Comment edited by skully2001 on 2010-09-27 10:17:46

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:20:21

Just thought I'd post my kudos to all those involved with the promotion and execution of Street Crawl. Our group was comprised almost entirely of out-of-towners. We went to the football game (which, was simply tremendous - despite the wrong team winning) and then we took the Tigertown Express to get to Supercrawl.

It was a great atmosphere down there. Awesome to see so many people at the event.

From there, we stumbled over to Hess where the atmosphere was just as lively. Very impressive and loads of fun.

As I stated over on the Ticats forums, I'd put this Saturday night in Hamilton up against anywhere in North America. Tough to top, for sure. And I can't wait for the day when people who live in Hamilton start realizing it and being proud of it.

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By lettie (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:26:14

I noticed there were lineups to get into the Indian restaurant and the Mexican one. If Ventura has a problem, look for a solution. Perhaps people don't want a big meal on Supercrawl night, maybe there could be a different menu. Maybe a new type of customer is discovering James St N and new things need to be offered. It is silly to blame an empty restaurant on the art crawl.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:31:26

Assuming the author is coming from a consensus viewpoint or has all of the relevant facts in hand, subjective journalism may be great. In any debate where you're the righteous outlier (the Red Hill battle springs to mind) or where the journalist lacks additional facts that would substantially recontextualize things, the math may not be so simple or favourable. For some reason I think of a scene in the ’80s film Witness, where Amish elder Eli Lapp schools young Jacob Lapp about guns and homicide:

Jacob: I would only kill the bad man.
Eli: Only the bad man. I see. And you know these bad men by sight? You are able to look into their hearts and see this badness?

Although there's one chap quoted, there are other discordant notes to the paper’s Supercrawl coverage (the irony of a Toyota lot in a car free zone is another that's mentioned; the tetchy “public space” sticker campaign was not), but since the Spec also dedicated significant resources to the street (eg. the SmartLife history lessons), gave substantial pre-weekend ink to the event and has generally been a zestful cheerleader for all things James North, newsworthy, maybe we can learn to ignore the pea under the mattress.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:31:32

You can lead a horse to water...

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By arcadia (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 13:19:29

odd story! I would expect the real story to be closer to the fact that most James N businesses get so much business on art crawl days that it overshadows how little business they get the rest of the time.

More specifically though, and if the owner is reading, why not try to organize some street friendly food options for art crawl nights? Have a giant frying pan going selling skewers, get the smell wafting into the street, sell some drinks to go, you'd make a killing. Did you see the line-up at the Ola bakery? It was constant, and mostly people buying snacks for the fair.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 13:31:24

if 20,000 people walked by my restaurant and didn't bother to come in, but instead lined up out the doors at all the other restaurants on the street, I'd be looking in the mirror, not complaining about it.

by the way, Ryan, who took the photos in this piece and with was it with a camera or a smart phone?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2010 at 13:44:44

by the way, Ryan, who took the photos in this piece and with was it with a camera or a smart phone?

I took them, with a new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W390 I'm still trying to figure out. Lots of duds in the batch I took.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 14:06:21

This is a little bizarre. Part of our Art Crawl ritual is to meet as a group at a James N. restaurant and take in the crawl and after parties. The restaurants that we go in are always packed, whether it is Wild Orchid, Mex-i-can, Thai Memory, or Acclamation. I have been meaning to check out Ventura's for awhile, but there are so many good options, I haven't got around to it yet. However, the owner's attitude seems somewhat adversarial, and is probably not the best way to build one's customer base.

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By not just supercrawl (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 14:29:13

I ate at Venturas for the first time on September 17th (a non art/supercrawl Friday night). When we got there we had to interupt the hostesses who were watching the Simpsons on a TV in the entry area. For most of our meal we were the ONLY ones in the restaurant. One other party showed up around 8pm. They must have been friends of the owner because they were chatting it up, dropping F-bombs and all. As for the food...I found it far too bland for my taste. Plain steamed broccoli, grilled fish with zero seasoning, and some boiled potatoes.

Perhaps its time to update the menu and make 'non regulars' feel a little more welcome.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 15:05:30

The street was packed. Standing room only at the Brain, Mulberry, August 8, and everywhere else. I heard that Mex-I-Can ran out of food. I think Mr. Ventura needs to embrace the event more. If you can't make money with 20,000 people walking by your doors, you've got big problems.

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By not just supercrawl (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 15:19:57

Even though I wasn't a fan of their food/service/atmosphere, just thought I'd mention that they do have amazing traditional Portuguese dessert!!

A table selling their existing desserts would be a perfect way to drum up business during crawls.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 15:33:03

I'm sorry, but I have little sympathy for someone who is handed 20,000 people on a platter and can't figure out a way to get a few hundred of them to check out his establishment...especially with the mega lineups everywhere else. I'm sure people would have loved another dining option with a shorter line.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 15:54:15

We ate there on an art crawl night and quite enjoyed it. The food was good, the service genial, a great selection of Portugese wines, but the atmosphere was a bit stodgy and there was only one other party there at the time. They definitely need to be more welcoming to new customers. It wouldn't take much.

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By SignOfTheTimes (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 16:08:32

But this is Hamilton and.. *gulp*.. Change is scary!!

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 19:30:21

Had a great time. It was great fun running into friends at random times. The density in some of the restaurants led us to venture into places we might never have stepped into. There was a place on the corner (Euro Pizza, I think) that had great quick food and amazingly priced beer. Then we hit the Vasco de Gama. It was a great night, and I'd love to see it more frequently, but I guess it takes so much energy and time to plan. Unfortunate that one opinion slams the event.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2010 at 21:29:00

Anecdotal story: I went to my very first artcrawl the second friday of this Sept. with 4 other people. We all had dinner at Ventura's (for the first time and it was quite good).

Every table was full.

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted September 28, 2010 at 00:04:18

Another anecdote about Ventura's: About a year ago a friend and I were out for a regular artcrawl night. After a bit of artcrawling, we decided to head into Ventura's to share a bottle of wine and probably an appetizer or two. When we walked in and asked for a table, the owner asked what we were going to order before we were seated. When we said "probably wine and an appetizer" he shook his head and said "no" and wouldn't seat us. He basically told us to leave because we weren't going to order a full dinner.

Personally, I was shocked by this. Having worked in the restaurant industry for years, I couldn't believe that an owner was turning away business. I'll never go back to that place.

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By FredBlowsIt (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2010 at 07:43:06

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Venturascam (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2010 at 08:52:06

This is the same Virgilio who always complains about crooked cops, drug dealing at restaurants across the street, the lack of business any time of the year and that he is going to sell all and move away. In fact business is so bad he says, he even has to pay more to park his Mercedes.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:11:09

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:52:34

Sometimes people just don't like ya. Sometimes they don't feel like eating at your restaurant. And while most people accept it and find reasons to change, some people take the easier route - get angry and blame it on something else.

You have a right to open a business. But you don't have a right to be successful. Just because you invested money doesn't mean you'll get any of it back. Neither the City of Hamilton nor cultural events like the Supercrawl exist soley for your benefit, and neither require you to make a profit for them to be deemed a success.

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