You know those people who won’t fork over $5 for a River Festival button before partaking of its events? No wonder they’re right at home in one of the top 10 cities for cheapskates.
Wichita’s latest distinction comes courtesy of Kiplinger.com —the website of the business magazine (you know — the free part).
In naming Wichita the No. 10 best city for cheapskates, Kiplinger points to 32 Dollar General stores in a 30-mile radius, lots of free stuff to do, and what it calls “particularly cheap” food.
But before those of you who pay your fair share despair, know that Kiplinger considers “cheapskate” a term of endearment.
“It’s actually someone who’s seeking value,” said Caitlin Dewey, producer of the website.
Wichita is a place where you can stretch your dollar further than you can in the vast majority of the nation’s cities, Kiplinger says. It ranks St. Louis as No. 1 for cheapskates, and includes San Antonio, Spokane, Wash., and Jonesboro, Ark., on the “best” list as well.
“Wichita is home to 36 museums, 20 live theaters and 35 art galleries. In other words, there are more than enough affordable cultural attractions to put it in the big leagues,” the website says. “Five museums sit along the Arkansas River, including the Wichita Art Museum, a botanical garden and a living history center, all of which charge $8 or less for admission. ... The Great Plains Nature Center serves up two miles of trails and regular programming for free. Wichita’s overall living expenses are 8 percent below the national average, with food prices being particularly cheap.”
Despite the positive spin, there are probably those who think Wichita deserves the cheapskate label in the literal, stingy sense. They may point to Tom Petty concerts that don’t sell out, cultural events and high-quality products that go underappreciated — and those River Festival buttons that increasingly go unpurchased.
Festival director Janet Wright laughed when she heard about Wichita’s place on the cheapskate list. A lot.
“That is so funny,” she said.
“I do think to some degree we are thrifty. There are times when we have a sense of entitlement, that we shouldn’t have to pay much for things. Some people don’t feel the need to buy the button, but for the festival to continue, they have to. ... If you look at what a $5 button will buy, you can’t find anything that equates to it.”
Note: Button sales started Friday, at an event that offered buy-one-get-one concert tickets and free food. Sorry if you missed it.
Wichita definitely loves a value, Sarah Haertl of Intrust Bank Arena said. She points to the popularity of four-packs to the Thunder hockey games that include refreshments, and to people who always want the arena to offer Groupons.
The same value-seeking goes for those dining out, said restaurant owner Tanya Tandoc. When families of five eat out a lot — as they do in Wichita; it’s a “carcentric” town, she said — they have to look for ways to make it affordable.
Eating out is definitely one of the biggest forms of entertainment in town; Kiplinger puts it this way: “The city has a thriving dining scene, which includes a growing number of inexpensive Lebanese and Vietnamese restaurants.”
Tandoc and Adam Mills, president of the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association in Wichita, disagree with Kiplinger’s assertion that food is cheap and that the number of Lebanese and Vietnamese restaurants is increasing.
“I think overall the home prices are very moderate to low, but then I think we have a pretty good wage scale. ... People actually have money to go out,” Mills said.
“But I don’t know that the food itself is cheap. Cheap is kind of a negative connotation to me. I’d say it’s good value. I’m pretty happy with our dining choices.”
Tandoc added that the lack of overhead compared to, say, New York and San Francisco in the cost of real estate allows Wichita restaurants to keep prices lower than they are in those cities, but that doesn’t mean that they’re low. Average to medium is more like it, she said.
Our cultural attractions may struggle at times for visitors, but people take advantage of free days at the Wichita Art Museum on Saturdays, said Debbie Deuser, the museum’s membership manager. Most do plunk a couple dollars in the donation box, she said.
And the Sedgwick County Zoo usually has a free day or two a year along with discounted $2.50 admission on Wednesdays during the winter.
Last August, when the zoo was having its free 40th birthday weekend — and the temperature was over 100 — attendance was 20,000 on Saturday and 25,000 on Sunday, director Mark Reed said. If people had been asked to pay admission on those hot days, the zoo would have been lucky to draw a combined 5,000 to 7,000, he said.
Kiplinger names a “must-see freebie” in Wichita: the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, “which boasts 6,600 works” and never charges admission. Shoot, when the museum has free concerts and other events, the refreshments are even free — always a draw to any event in Wichita.
The museum is closed right now for improvements, but it will reopen Sept. 15 with a party at 7 p.m. — one of the very few things for which the Ulrich will ever ask you to pay. It will be $10 — “the cost of a movie ticket,” museum public relations manager Teresa Veazey said.
Yes, there will be refreshments.
“The main takeaway” from the list, Kiplinger’s Dewey said: “In a community there’s a tendency in people who have been there all their life not to appreciate the extraordinary free or cheap things that are there. Take advantage of them.”