By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Rachel Higgins believes every University of Nebraska at Kearney student should experience Destination Downtown.
Well, she started to explain, then let the crowd do that for her.
“This is just dancing in the middle of the street right now,” Higgins said with a laugh as Louie the Loper and a large group of UNK students busted out their best “Macarena.”
“The vibes are really nice here,” Higgins added.
The senior from Neligh, a self-proclaimed people person, loves attending the annual back-to-school celebration, which brought hundreds of UNK students to downtown Kearney on Thursday evening. She enjoys meeting new people, hanging out with friends, checking out the local businesses and seeing everyone have a good time.
“It’s just fun,” Higgins said. “I think it’s an experience you don’t get everywhere.”
Fun is a word Renae Zimmer used several times when talking about Destination Downtown. She’s assistant director of UNK’s Office of Student and Family Transitions, which organized the free event featuring food, games, prizes and other activities.
There was a caricature artist, DJ, bingo and appearances by the UNK drum line, cheer squad and student-athletes. NRG Media gave away tickets to the upcoming Jon Pardi concert at the Nebraska State Fair and Lemon Fresh Day performed on the Central Avenue stage.
More than 30 businesses and other vendors participated in the event, and most of them offered special discounts and giveaways.
“We have a cool thing going here,” said Zimmer, who appreciates the ongoing partnership between UNK and downtown Kearney.
Along with all the fun, Destination Downtown serves a bigger purpose by getting students off campus and creating a greater sense of community. Plus, it’s an opportunity to check out a variety of businesses they may not know much about.
“For college students to be able to see this, all the cute shops and everything, I think it’s really important for them,” Zimmer said.
Stacey Johnson, co-owner of Edith Joi Boutique, agrees.
“This is a great way to introduce students to all the unique, fun businesses that are down here,” she said. “There are lots of small businesses that are locally owned and there are businesses down here that are owned and operated by UNK graduates, which is really cool.”
Johnson, who also serves as finance director for Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, is one of those UNK graduates. She earned a degree in organizational and relational communication in 2017, and both of her employees are current UNK students.
Like many other downtown business owners, she gets excited when summer ends and Lopers fill the community again.
“I cannot say enough great things about what UNK has done for Kearney,” Johnson said. “The impact the university makes on this community is second to none.”