Town’s rescinded vote ruffles feathers of business association
Last modified: Feb. 13
Members of the West Jefferson Business Association say they are noticing a recurring trend of opposition from the town’s board of aldermen concerning downtown events aimed at promoting tourism.
During its last monthly meeting, aldermen rescinded an earlier decision to allow the WJBA to hold the second annual “Olde Time Antiques Fair” on East Main Street in September.
Now, WJBA members say they will once again approach the board of aldermen during the March meeting to ask them to reconsider last week’s vote. This will reaffirm the WJBA’s desire to hold the festival on East Main Street.
The association came to the consensus during a special meeting at town hall Tuesday evening to address the town’s vote asking the WJBA to reconsider the festival’s location.
During that last meeting, Aldermen Lester Mullis said that while the town is not against the fair being in West Jefferson, he admitted the board “might have acted hastily” in approving the previous location.
The decision came on the heels of concerns from business owners in the area of the potential impact the festival could have on patronage.
Parkway Theater and Parker Tie Company owners have previously expressed their fear that such an event could adversely affect parking, said event organizer Keith Woodie.
Festival organizers had previously agreed to not block off Parkway Theater during the festival’s setup the Friday evening before the event, so it would not affect moviegoers.
Rick Woodie, owner of Parker Tie Company, said he, personally, is a fan of the festival. The concept of losing parking and therefore customers is what concerns him the most.
“Really, my concern is I’ve got a clientele of customers that can’t park out at Geno’s (on Jefferson Avenue) and walk to my business to buy cinderblocks and 2-by-4s. They have to have parking,” said Rick Woodie.
Messages left for Parkway Theater Owner Tony Eldreth seeking comment were not immediately returned.
By asking the board to reconsider its vote — after it initially approved the festival’s location — is a battle that goes beyond just one festival, said the WJBA.
“This is a prime example of opposition from our aldermen,” said Keith Woodie. “It’s time for us to come together. We are a tourism town. If not, why do we have the business association? Why are we spending thousands of dollars on tourism? It needs to be known to our town board that we are working toward tourism” and “we do not want to hurt anyone.”
“What we are looking at is thousands of dollars in revenue,” said Woodie. “We can’t let one or two become the voice of many.”
Alderman Tom Hartman said part of the reason the board rescinded the vote was because of “incomplete information” the WJBA had presented to the board initially.
“They said all of the merchants were in favor or would be appeased to be in favor (of the festival’s location),” said Hartman. “As it turns out, a couple of them were not. We had some conflicting information we were not aware of at the time. But basically, I’m in favor of the merchant’s association and tourism. I’m not in favor of disrupting a merchant’s weekend business when we can find a suitable location to have the antique’s fair and I think we can.”
During a Wednesday phone interview, Mullis said he was “all for them (the WJBA) having the festival” and that “tourism was really important to the town.”
The decision to rescind the vote came about due to complaints from downtown businesses about the festival’s location, said Mullis.
“When they first came to us we thought everything was cool, and then we got some complaints,” said Mulls. “It seemed like regardless of where we have it, people are complaining."
Mullis also suggested the West Jefferson Municipal Park as an alternative.
"I'm all in favor of the festival," said Mullis. "It's good for the town. Anything to promote tourism is a great thing, but it can be held in a location besides Main Street and Jefferson Avenue and can be just as successful, as it would be if held on one of those (other) streets."
Alderman Stephen Shoemaker, who was not attendance for last week’s vote, reassured the WJBA that the board was “not their enemy.”
He said he was a fan of antiques and that the festival “brings people to town.”
“I’m sure we will work something out,” said Shoemaker.
Other WJBA board members said they invited other aldermen to the meeting, none of who, except Shoemaker, showed up.
Before recommitting to the idea of holding the festival on East Main Street, the WJBA considered holding the event on Jefferson Avenue between Town Hall and the red light adjacent to the monument business at the end of the business district.
Keith Woodie said the proposed location garnered ample support from downtown businesses and the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. It has also gained the initial approval of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said Keith Woodie.
At that time, association board members asked what would happen if the new proposed location received opposition as did the initial proposal.
“It will be impossible,” said Mayor Dale Baldwin. “No matter where you go, some two people will complain. You could put this thing in an empty field in Beaver Creek and someone would complain about the hay being cut.”
Last year’s fair attracted 8,000 people and has been noted by organizers as potentially being the next big thing to come to the town.
“When we first started the Christmas in July festival, the tree business was the big time, but it’s not as big now,” said Baldwin. “The antiques (business) is a really going thing.”
“We need to know this is a tourism town and we need to know we have the support (from the aldermen) to put these ideas to work,” Keith Woodie added. “We have proven it with CIJ and the first antiques fair. These ideas do work.”
When the town rescinded the initial vote, Keith Woodie noted the disappointment of businesses on East Main Street that were looking forward to the additional patronage.
WJBA Board Member Lisa Willingham, who owns the Artists’ Theater with her husband, Steve, was one of those merchants.
“I would love it for it to be right in front of my door, but I want it to be where it would be most successful,” said Willingham.
The WJBA will approach the board of aldermen at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 4.