City prepares for Polar Bear

Locals and visitors gather for Polar Bear festivities Jan. 30, 2016, on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)

Locals and visitors gather for Polar Bear festivities Jan. 30, 2016, on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)

By Tyra Wooten

City officials and local business owners say they are prepared for Polar Bear, the unsanctioned tradition of drinking and partying among SIUC students that begins Saturday.

City Manager Gary Williams said the expected visitors to the area can be good for the city’s businesses, and police overtime approved in the annual budget should help the overwhelming increase in calls over this celebration weekend.

“Every year when we approve our annual budget, we approve a line item to accommodate police overtime for events like Polar Bear,” Williams said. “As a city, we recognize that there’s a huge influx of people over the weekend that are spending money in Carbondale, which generates additional sales tax revenue.”


The large scale event in the past has usually been met by a heightened presence of city and university law enforcement. Lt. Ryan House, of the university’s department of public safety, said university police and Carbondale officer will be working closely over the weekend.

House said cases of heavy intoxication are usually the only issues they encounter.

“We would advise students to be safe when consuming any alcohol,” House said.

Sgt. Amber Ronketto of Carbondale police said in preparation for Polar Bear, they will be conducting impaired driving patrols. On Thursday, the department issued a statement regarding special traffic patrols to screen for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

“We want participants of Polar Bear, and the general public, to remember that it’s a choice, and the choice is simple: Drink or drive — but never do both,” Ronketto said in the statement. “If you do, you will be arrested.”

Promotions for the annual event at Pinch Penny Pub, a frequent recipient of Polar Bear partiers, are organized by Anthony Greff, a former SIU student. Businesses — especially bars — tend to throw themed celebrations annually.


Greff said the Polar Bear celebration began 15 years ago when Corona beer and Pinch Penny teamed up to help with sales during the winter month. As a result, a winter weather event was created that transformed into a yearly and highly anticipated holiday for Carbondale residents.

“It became like a winter weather homecoming sort of speaking,” Greff said.

Greff said alumni, students and other neighboring townspeople typically travel to Carbondale for this celebration. He added that the revenue for local businesses is important for their survival, especially because the university’s enrollment has declined.

“[Businesses] depend on days like Polar Bear, Solar Bear and Unofficial Halloween to really make up for that lost student revenue that they are facing that gets worse every year,” Greff said.

A small crowd gathers as a Polar Bear mascot looks at the scene Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, outside Pinch Penny Pub.

Longtime business owner James Karayiannis, of Pinch Penny Pub, said the Polar Bear celebration has died down some over the years, but remains very important for local business owners.

“Any time we can have people come from out of town and resemble Carbondale of what it used to be like, it’s a great thing,” Karayiannis said.

Karayiannis said in the past, local businesses were use to having a bigger student population to serve, but he still looks forward to events like this.

“It’s vital to most of the businesses and to community survival,” Karayiannis said.

Emmanuel Lopez, owner of Chango’s Bar & Grill, said as a new business, he’s expecting a good outcome from this celebration.

“I like the atmosphere, I like the people, I liked the crowd, and I like to look at people having fun,” Lopez said.

Staff writer Tyra Wooten can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @twootenDE.

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