By Karen Cornelius
The Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board met on Tuesday night, August 21, at the municipal complex on Decatur Street. Five board members were present: Terry Parker, Elizabeth Wakefield, William Warden, Brad Scholtz, and Jim Schoene. Absent were members Jeff Keck and Dennis Brudney. Also present were parks supervisor Dana Corogin and service director Tony Valerius.
Many members of the audience were representing downtown businesses who expressed themselves about opposition to several summer local events including the Farmers’ Market, the Corvette Car Show, and Chalk It Up. They felt these events were in competition with some of the downtown merchants and drove their business profits down when Main Street was blocked off. Parks board members were very clear they weren’t sure the board could do anything with their issues at this time, but they agreed to listen and advised that public comments should be limited to five minutes each.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Chairman Parker stated that this issue was dumped on the board’s laps and many aspects are not necessarily parks’ issues at all. The first to speak was Brian Crandall of Silly Goose at 657 Main Street. He said he was there on behalf of his wife and mother-in-law who have been in the retail business for 30 years and he would like to address his concerns for them as well as some other retailers. He noted they have been voted best gift shop on Cleveland’s Hot List as well as being recognized by many magazines and publications. He stated that there are events being help downtown that hampers their business and others. He said Vermilion talks itself up about being business friendly and on social media about the quaint shops and fine restaurants and how the city wants to attract new business. He then discussed how the Farmers’ Market sponsored by Main Street Vermilion was a concern. He said a market is defined as local farmers who sell their agricultural products directly to consumers. However, this market sells other merchandise in competition with the local businesses.
Crandall recounted how Art Shattuck of Lee’s Landing circulated a petition and delivered it to Main Street only for it to be discarded because the Farmers’ Market was and still is hurting year-round business for downtown retailers. He said Saturdays which are normally the best days are now by far the worst. He feels this organization supports what he called fly-by night grab and go vendors. He asked if the park is free for the market and if they rent the gazebo. He said he was angry and that some businesses felt shunned yet are asked to contribute donations for their cause. “When was the last time a farmer grew tee shirts, furniture, jewelry, soaps, lotions, crafts, and artwork?” he asked. He asked if these people are paying fees, taxes, insurance, utilities that go along with being a small business. He pointed out the market sells flowers yet Tiffany’s Flowers is right across the street.
He continued that he also opposed the car show where 250 Corvettes were there in July. He asked where their customers are suppose to park because local retailers depend on patrons who shop the stores and car owners do not. He also added that Chalk It Up another Main Street Vermilion event also blocks off Main Street and asks who makes any money from the event. Crandall said he came before Parks Board because city councilman Brian Holmes advised them to come to a meeting as this board gives permits for the use of parks. He said he has videos of how these events hurt retail businesses. He said the businesses work hard and these people come in for a handful of hours for $10 per week.
Next, Richard Kime of Birchview Drive spoke as a former small business owner in western New York who put a lot of sweat, blood, and tears into his statuary dealership. He had a similar situation with another group called “Crossroads” every Saturday with their huge show. He decided to join them rather than fight them. He said it worked out well for him. Here in Vermilion as a small vendor at the market he pays his taxes to the state and they are responsible for their vendor’s license and he provides a service and a little recreation with his birdhouses. He said the Olive Scene came to the market as well as the Popcorn Shop selling their products with the idea that people will then come into their stores. He advised they should all work together and join forces to do things together. He said there should be cooperation between groups rather than fighting between the downtown area and the small Farmers’ group.
Charl Gabel of the Encore Shoppe said most of them as small businesses cannot take their product to a park. She is not able to and would have to hire someone to be at the shop. She said she does try to get along with everyone. She said the Friends of Harbour Town do bring in vendors a few times during the summer and retailers have thanked her for bringing people to town. In her opinion, she thought Main Street was reaching the point of harassing her vendors about coming to the park and joining Main Street.
Shawn Jeffrey of the Ancient Celtic Shop at 658 Main Street said she has been in Vermilion for one year, but has been in business for 20. She has been internationally recognized in two different publications and in other media. She is also an event planner and knows it is very hard for organizations to please everyone. She hopes event planners try not to step on the toes of those small businesses that are here 12 months out of the year. She respectfully asked that they reconsider some things and look at some things differently. She called some of the people that do come into town to sell things as hobby owners who get negative about Vermilion if they do not sell anything and tell others not to come here. She said it’s not fair to the local businesses. She suggested that the Parks Board look for some extra money when booking the park out for 12 weeks when they could rent the venue, especially for weddings.
Chairman Parker said as a point of information, they don’t rent out the gazebo. He said anybody is free to use it at any time they want even if there are other things going on. They can’t reserve it exclusively just for a wedding. This applies to all their venues and for Vermilion residents there is no charge because they already support them. Jeffrey, from the audience, stated that other cities do charge people for the use of their parks. Parker responded that the board will have a fee discussion in the future.
Main Street Vermilion executive director Marilou Suszko addressed the board about some of the things brought up that night and agreed she didn’t think they had anything to do with the Parks board. She stated that any organization in Vermilion that closes the streets for an event never does so intentionally to the detriment of a business. The goal is always bringing people to town for experience, to create a lively atmosphere, to introduce them to Vermilion, to encourage them to find ways to spend their money, or to discover that this is a place they might want to live. She said creating a critical mass in a restricted area helps to develop this atmosphere. She said at every turn, Main Street Vermilion promotes Vermilion, not Main Street Vermilion. They work to get people to come to Vermilion through social media and print. She said they are very clear in their efforts to invite people to come to Vermilion which benefits everybody whether they are a member of Main Street or not.
Suszko added that the Farmers’ Market has entered its 11th year in downtown Vermilion and they have had hard discussions about the direction of the market and ways to improve it. When market season is over, they will explore new options that will continue to benefit the downtown community and will draw visitors yet address some of the concerns of the merchants. They don’t know if abandoning the market is the best solution. She said farmers’ markets create community atmosphere and they attract visitors and it brings people into town. They do recognize the need to increase the ratio of food producers to crafted items and those items that compete with local retailers. She said they will be working to modify the current model of the market and work to expand the market in reaching the community as well as the outside They are committed to compromising and will invite retailers to contact Main Street with their suggestions.
Chairman Parker said he didn’t think it was the purview of the board or the mission of the board to so regulate things that nobody can do anything. He doesn’t see this as a positive thing. He didn’t think it was up to the board to say who can sell what, where, or who gets to do what as opposed to the other, but they certainly will take all this under advisement. Member Wakefield stated that she thought Mr. Kime hit the nail on the mark when he said that people need to join together and work out their own solution and schedules. They don’t police the parks system and when somebody comes in with a request and it seems like a reasonable use for the park, then they will grant it without reservation. She said all the information is posted and if someone doesn’t like a park request they should attend a meeting and say so. Parker agreed someone needs to bring all the groups together to discuss these issues so together they can come up with some constructive solutions amongst themselves. He stated that the board could not legislate for them.
Parks supervisor Corogin stated that they travel a lot and almost every community has a farmers’ market even in Europe. She said she isn’t saying that they should have one in Vermilion, but that’s its very common. Retailer Crandall told the Parks Board that the can got kicked in their yard, and Parker responded that they are volunteers and not elected officials. Mr. Kime said Vermilion is a great community and Main Street is great and they have added so much, but they just need a little more cooperation. “The solution to the problem is not with the Parks board,” said chairman Parker.