Sharee Perciful, owner of the new What's the Scoop ice cream shop on South Main Avenue, initiated a discussion of the festival during the public comment section of Monday night’s meeting of the board.
Perciful asked for the board members’ support for her and other downtown merchants in negotiations with the Chamber of Commerce for revisions to vendor policies that dramatically impair their ability to do business during one the region’s largest festivals.
According to Perciful, the tight placement of vendor booth tents in front of her shop and the location of six or more frozen treat vendors in close proximity to the shop reduced her sales during the two-day festival to small fraction of what the shop brings in on a normal business day.
While she had secured a vendor space in front of her shop for next year’s festival, Perciful said the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, which manages the festival, gave first priority for vendor spots to the vendors who leased those spaces during this year’s festival.
She said she has so far had little success in her negotiations with the chamber and asked for “the town to support the merchants to ensure they are given priority as well as visiting vendors.”
“I would like the town to take an initiative to help the merchants and support the merchants,” she said.
Mayor Doris Hensley told Perciful the board would like to support the merchants and suggested a review of a decades-old resolution that gave control of downtown streets to the chamber during what has since become one of the largest festivals in the region, with more than 300 vendors and estimated crowds of more than 100,000 people.
Alderman Gary Chandler told Perciful she was not alone in her complaints about limited access to her storefront during the festival, and cited several long-established Erwin businesses that have had similar problems, including Keesecker Furniture and the Blue Ridge Pottery antiques store.
Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson told the board festival safety issues also need review and cited an incident at this year’s festival in which emergency responders had difficulty getting to a boy who had a medical issue.
“It was extremely difficult to get to him, get him out and get him to Niswonger. I couldn’t get through the sidewalks,” Tilson said.
Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said Public Works Director Rikki Forney also had issues at this year’s festival that should be discussed, and suggested a revision of post-festival steering committee meeting previously held to address any problems.
Hensley suggested a festival “debriefing” with town department heads and the chamber followed by a review of the resolution that gave the chamber control of the streets during the festival.
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