Wednesday, July 17, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Graham downtown businesswomen object to Sat. street closure for June 8 festival

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Several Graham businesswomen approached Graham’s city council last week to express concerns about several city-sponsored festivals that result in street closures which they contend hurt their businesses.

On the council’s agenda that night were three events and another series of Thursday night concerts for which the council was being asked to approve street closures around Court Square.

What drew the particular ire of the businesswomen was the proposal for a “Slice of Summer,” scheduled for Saturday, June 8, and the Pumpkin Bash, which is scheduled for Friday, October 25. The proposal before the council was to close the 100 blocks of East and West Elm Streets and North and South Main Streets from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. for the June event; the Pumpkin Bash would close East and West Elm streets at 2:00 and North and South Main Streets at 4:00, both remaining closed until 10:30 p.m.

Brittany DiStefano, who operates Sandy and Company, a women’s dress and consignment shop at 142 North Main Street, at the corner of North Main and Harden streets, suggested that some of the events could be moved to Sunday, which would not “be encroaching on our businesses.”  She pointed out that there would be less conflict with the retail businesses in the area, most of which are not open on Sunday.

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She added that there would be more parking for the festivities since there would not be competition with customers seeking to park to visit local businesses.

“It can be very disruptive (to close the streets) on a Saturday,” she told the council.

Amy Wilkinson of the Main Line, a gift shop at 134 North Main Street, echoed those concerns, noting that “even though events are later, roads close earlier,” which is when it begins to impact their businesses.

While some of the events don’t begin until later – for instance, the Slice of Summer actually begins at 4:00, the Pumpkin Bash at 6:00 – the street closures begin much earlier (such as 1:00 p.m. for the Slice of Summer, 4:00 for the Pumpkin Bash), which she and others said would cut off the flow of customers if they can’t park in front or near the stores where they want to shop.

Most of the concern focused on the Slice of Summer issues, since the proposed road closing at 1:00 on June 8 would effectively halve the business hours of the affected retail stores on Main Street that Saturday; they would lose only one hour for the Friday closing in preparation for the Pumpkin Bash on October 25.

Katherine Baird of Gelah Couture at 113 North Main Street emphasized that she and other business owners are “not opposed to the events themselves, but when roads close, it hurts our businesses.”

She stressed, as did other owners, “Saturday is the best day of our sales.”

Cheryl Rich, of Sandy & Company, reiterated that Saturday is the busiest day of the week for retail stores and that the half-day road closure on one of four Saturdays in June (or one of five as in 2024) is devastating for sales.

Brittany DiStefano and Cheryl Rich, both of Sandy & Company, were two of four downtown businesswomen who raised concerns about the impact of a half-day Saturday road closure on their businesses during this week’s Graham city council meeting.

Rich said it was a “terrible idea” for the city to close the streets for any part of a Saturday.

Mayor Jennifer Talley, who with her husband Chuck also owns several downtown businesses, expressed sympathy with the businesswomen.  “It’s not our intention to hurt any businesses,” she said, noting that downtown is, fundamentally, a “business district, not a festival district.”

Rich acknowledged that perhaps some businesses, particularly restaurants and bars, may benefit from the festivals, but retailers like her boutique and a furniture store are hurt by the road closures.

The city’s recreation officials, however, told the council that they needed the advance time to get everything prepared for each event.

“We’d be too crunched for time,” one of them told the council.  Bryan Faucette, the city’s recreation director, said, “It’s just not possible” to change or delay the preparation time by leaving on-street parking until 5:00 p.m. – i.e., when most downtown businesses close.

“We’re already doing as much as we can,” Faucette told the council.

In response to another suggestion, that perhaps events could be held at one of the city’s parks, Faucette said the Slice of Summer event, in particular, requires access to water and more parking than is available at any of the city’s parks.

Faucette said he had never really considered having the various events on a Sunday, as several of the women had suggested.

The council removed the two events from its “consent agenda,” typically non-controversial items often adopted en bloc, while approving street closures for its Thursdays at Seven concert series, which closes only the 100 block of West Elm Street on May 23, June 27, July 25, August 22, September 12, and September 26.

The council also approved a Saturday, September 7 road closure from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for a 9/11 Commemorative 5K run.

Council members concluded their discussion by asking Faucette to talk with vendors and others in connection with the two events to see how the business owners’ concerns might be addressed, moving to Sunday, or perhaps condensing the time required for street closures.

The council will resume consideration of the issue at its next meeting, on March 12.

Meanwhile, the Recreation Department has announced the following meeting times to hear from downtown businesses on their concerns about the street closures: Monday, February 26: 6:00pm; Tuesday, February 27: at 10:00 a.m.; and Thursday, February 29 at 10:00 a.m.  All meetings will be held at the Graham Historical Museum, 135 West Elm Street in downtown Graham.


The newspaper’s editorial page view of this controversy:  https://alamancenews.com/grahams-street-festivals-whats-the-point/

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