For many years, Wednesdays have been an informal holiday on Western Washington University's campus, permitting students to let off some steam by partying in the middle of the week. For businesses in downtown Bellingham, this means a shift in demographics to a younger crowd during the academic year. For students, it provides an opportunity to connect and meet new friends.
Palmer McDaniel, a 22-year-old transfer student from the University of North Texas, saw the first Western Wednesday of fall quarter as an opportunity to meet new people. Before moving to Bellingham in July, he lived in Seattle where he said he didn’t see the same type of welcoming atmosphere.
“Everybody is really welcome to meeting new people,” McDaniel said. “Especially at Western Wednesday, which isn’t always the case in Seattle.”
McDaniel chalks up the open-mindedness of meeting new people not only to Western and Bellingham, but to what he describes as a generational shift in how open people are to meeting each other. He said that Gen X and millennials can be more standoffish than Gen Z.
Downtown businesses also take note and prepare for the demographic change that comes with college students making the trip downtown. Making sure they are on top of checking IDs is essential for any business that distributes alcohol, as well as making sure no one is sneaking in outside beverages.
Multiple live music shows were going on at the corner of East Maple Street and Railroad Avenue, including local band Atomic Affair. It was the group's first performance on Western Wednesday.
“It was really cool to be able to play for all the new students coming in," Atomic Affair drummer A.J. Bernstein said.
There has not been much effort to prepare differently for Western Wednesdays so far this academic year, but 20th Century Bowl is planning to host Blacklight Nights, which would give Western students 21 and older a discount to bowl on Wednesdays. They hope to start the weekly event in the next month or so, as they are in the process of receiving all of the materials necessary to put on the event, General Manager Michael Salinger said.
“We are going to start doing Blacklight Nights mainly because of Western Wednesday," Salinger said. Blacklight Nights did exist in the past at 20th Century Bowl, but were dismantled due to underage drinkers. They are looking to combat this issue by checking IDs at the door as well as checking for people who are bringing in drinks from outside.
“[Underage drinking is] always a problem with not just Western students but anybody in general,” Salinger said.
College town bars often have to deal with underage students trying to drink, but Bellingham Bar and Grill has found a unique way to counter the problem. The “Wall of Shame” is a decoration where the bar takes fake IDs that have been confiscated over the last couple years and places them proudly on its wall.
“We used to not collect the IDs, but then I had the idea. I said, ‘Why don’t we just start putting them on the wall?’ We would have 1000s up there if I had kept them from 2009 on,” said Bellingham Bar and Grill owner Mo Tsimouris.
Bellingham Bar and Grill is known for their $2 doubles on Wednesdays, which have existed since the restaurant opened in 2009. Doubles start at $2 and then increase by 50 cents every half hour.
“There’s no profit in it at all. We just do it because it’s in the middle of the week,” Tsimouris said. “We want to get people in there to see the bar and experience the bar. And the hope is that they get a great level of service and have a good time, and then come back another time when we don’t have that cheap deal.”
Twenty years ago at Western, the trend wasn’t to go out for Western Wednesday, but to go out on Thirsty Thursday. Amy Cully, a former student and current graduate teaching assistant supervisor for the chemistry department, said she did not have time to go out on those occasions due to having morning classes the next day.
When asked about her roommates, who did choose to go out and party on those nights, Cully said, “Neither of them graduated in four years.”
Travis Zumwalt (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter at The Front. He is pursuing a journalism degree focusing in public relations. Outside of journalism, he enjoys watching sports, and spending time with his family and friends. You can reach him at email@example.com.