It's been just about three months since the City of Emporia and Emporia Main Street installed a wireless speaker system on the 600 - 900 blocks of Commercial Street.
The system, which was first put into action during this year's Dirty Kanza weekend, has been used to play music during the day and can serve as a way to communicate quickly with Emporia's thousands of visitors during large downtown events.
Main Street Executive Director Casey Woods said research suggests that background music enhances shopping experiences, and many other communities have similar set-ups.
"The concept of the speaker system has been talked about for downtown Emporia for almost 20 years," Woods said. "Background music has a tendency to improve shopping and get people more involved, as far as messaging is concerned over the speaker systems, and directing them to events and activities. It's been discussed for a long period of time in a variety of different committees."
Woods said the growing number of events and activities in downtown Emporia, like the DK, spurred the need for an easier way to communicate with large numbers of people at the push of a button. About eight years ago, Main Street worked with the city's then-Facilities Manager Ed Rathke to identify a sound system that could produce background music and provide emergency messaging.
"How do you communicate with 3,000 or 10,000 people in a confined area very quickly?" Woods said. "The general feeling was the sound system crossed a number of things off the boxes that we had."
Unfortunately, the initial sound system selected for the project did not work as intended and the equipment purchased was sold at auction.
Woods said Main Street worked with local electronics company Audio Lite to develop the current set-up, which is expandable for about $10,000 per city block.
Music plays from 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. most days, with adjustments made for special events and programming. Woods said the daily playlist ranges from "best of" selections of the 1960s and up, with options for holiday-specific music during certain times of the year.
We asked readers on Facebook what their thoughts were on the system last week and responses teetered between positive and negative.
"It's awesome," Victoria Partridge wrote. "I was just walking downtown today and I was thinking about how cool downtown is, and the music is definitely part of that."
Mandy Giefer said, as a photographer, she brings clients downtown for shoots often. The music has been a welcome addition to those appointments.
"Things flow more naturally and [my clients] open up quicker," she said. "Downtown has been my go-to spot first so they can just be themselves. It's fun."
Giefer said she had not noticed an issue with the volume.
"I haven’t had an issue with it being too loud," she said.
Another commenter said the music was an unexpected — but welcome — surprise.
"I don’t go downtown often and wasn’t expecting to hear music playing, so it was a little odd at first," Carol Hallowell said. "But it’s a nice idea."
Others said the music was distracting and grating during business hours.
"The back-beat of some of the music is particularly distracting in an office setting," Lisa Tye told The Gazette in an email. "Perhaps if the music was less 'club-like' and just instrumental, it may be more tolerable."
"I love music, but I also love to have it when I want it, and to choose what I want," David McCullough commented on Facebook. "So, I'm not going downtown to listen to the music; I'm going to do business, or enjoy a place or event. I'd consider that extra sound as unwelcome noise."
"I have noticed that the music can be heard inside the businesses even toward the back of the building, which is significant, I would say," Linda Urey wrote. "Perhaps the speakers direction could be changed away from the building and toward the street. Perhaps the bass could be adjusted so you don't hear 'boom boom boom' inside the buildings."
Woods said adjustments have already been made to the system's bass output and volume, but suggestions are always welcome.
"We encourage people to talk to us directly once things come up in practice, because we can talk about a downtown sound system, but a lot of people will hear about the technology and not necessarily think about the impact of the technology until it's implemented," he said. "It's one of the interesting parts of this job, because you've got 228 buildings just in the historic district, and then you've got blocks outside of it with different businesses of a variety of different types, and people who have different interests. Some people love to have people hang out and some people love all of the activity and some people don't. You're just trying to achieve that greater good, and there's a lot of research that talks about having that exterior sound is a positive impact on creating a third space for people to stay and enjoy businesses and extend nightlife, and as a communication tool it's already proven itself pretty valuable."
Those with concerns or suggestions can contact Main Street at 340-6430.