Are street parties impeding profit?

Frequent closure of Main Avenue upsets some business owners

Nearly 20 festivals, like Taste of Durango, take place on Main Avenue every year, pushing crowds of people into the street and away from businesses. The frequency of this has upset some business owners. Enlarge photo

Durango Herald file photo

Nearly 20 festivals, like Taste of Durango, take place on Main Avenue every year, pushing crowds of people into the street and away from businesses. The frequency of this has upset some business owners.

From classic car shows to holiday parades and brew fests, downtown Durango has something happening every weekend, catering to almost every kind of taste.

So what’s not to love?

Plenty, say downtown merchants who blame these diversions for diverting business away from their shops.

Closing off Main Avenue makes it hard to attract tourists when there is no parking and the city’s biggest business thoroughfare is shut down.

“We find that business is dead for us when a special event closes Main Avenue,” wrote Antonia Clark, co-owner of Toh-Atin Gallery in a letter to the city on behalf of the Durango Gallery Association.

Gallery owners are asking the city to rethink its approach to special events on Main, perhaps redirecting more events to Buckley Park or East Second Avenue as a compromise.

Gallery owners point out that their low sales-tax collections are hurting the city, too.

In the sales-tax category of galleries and gifts, the city collected $56,205 in August, a 12 percent drop from August 2011 when galleries and gifts collected $64,126 in sales tax for the city.

For the city as a whole, sales tax collections are up 6 percent for the year, but the busy summer festival season is painful for gallery owners who “depend on strong summer revenues in order to survive all year,” Clark added.

“For us to have so many zero income days during the summer, due to street closures, is just not fair, nor is it smart for the city to be losing out on precious tax revenues due to street closures,” Clark said.

It’s not just the gallery owners who gripe.

Ron Carney, owner of Moe’s bar on Main Avenue, is angry about having to pay taxes to the downtown Business Improvement District, which uses the revenue to promote downtown festivities. In effect, he is paying for the advertising of his competition, such as the beer tents pitched in the middle of Main, he said.

Carney finds fault in the “execution” of these street parties.

“Most of what they do is just wrong,” Carney said. “When they set a tent up in front of (Moe’s), it’s ridiculous. Usually we get the back of the tent facing our business, which in effect turns the sidewalk into an alley. So we see the trash, the empty boxes. The people walking down the middle of the street don’t see our business.”

Carney said more merchants feel the same way, but are afraid to speak out.

“I think the (attitude is), ‘it’s a small town and I don’t want to make any waves,’ but I really hate it,” Carney said.

These sentiments are no secret to Bob Kunkel, the city’s business development director.

“It’s no question. There are events that do not create a retail boon for a store. I readily agree,” Kunkel said.“People coming here for Oktoberfest want to drink beer, eat German food and dance in the street. It’s probably not going to result in a sale of a $1,000 painting.”

The city, however, has to balance competing interests.

Main Avenue is the “community’s living room, it’s not just the merchants’ living room,” Kunkel said.

Many nonprofits depend on street festivals to raise money for their organizations and causes, such as Manna Soup Kitchen or the Adult Education Center.

The city cannot exactly tell veterans or school groups that they can’t organize a parade, either.

Kunkel would not want to move the classic car shows off Main.

“I happen to think old cars in front of old buildings look really cool,” he said.

Officials do work with event organizers. A coffee fest, for example, was held on Eighth Street to complement the farmers market and not intrude on Main.

But most details, like where the booths will go, are left to the event organizers.

“There’s a limit we can tell the applicant, so we don’t become responsible for the success or failure of the event,” Kunkel said.

If it’s a complete failure, the organizer probably won’t get another street permit.

Business owners do get some say, because they must sign off on a petition before an applicant can get permission for an event.

Kunkel thinks the special events are a complicated issue that need to take in account the facts and not the perception.

Many events, such as the Fourth of July parade, are on a holiday when businesses are closed anyway.

According to data provided by Kunkel, the number of events has been consistent from year to year. The number of closures on Main Avenue in the Central Business District, including events and parades, was 17 for 2012 compared with 18 for 2010.

For those who complain that this year’s big event, the two-day street closures for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, was a complete bust, Kunkel responds that organizers were told by the Pro Cycling organization to prepare for 20,0000 people.

If the city prepared for only 5,000 and then 20,000 showed up, the city would never get the opportunity to host a big event again, Kunkel said.

He said people don’t appreciate the exposure the city received.

“Here’s the guy who says, ‘I don’t care if some German family six years from now is going to come here because they see us on TV. I just care about next week’s payroll and today’s sales receipts,’” he said. “The community has to take an approach that we all have to give a little bit in this for the greater benefit.”

Kunkel also thinks there is a lot of finger-pointing when a business does not do well.

“It might be ‘I am under-capitalized, I’m a poor manager, I’m a lousy manager, I’m selling stuff people don’t want to buy.’ Is there any of that in the picture? Or is it just someone else’s fault?” Kunkel said.

The amount of downtown activity is a local source of pride for most and envy for out-of-towners, he said.

Ironically, he said, “Other towns come here and ask ‘how do you guys do this?’”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Antonia Clark, co-owner of the Toh-Atin Gallery, wrote a letter to the city on behalf of the Durango Gallery Association, whose members fear the frequency of the city closing parts of Main Avenue is hurting their bottom line. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Antonia Clark, co-owner of the Toh-Atin Gallery, wrote a letter to the city on behalf of the Durango Gallery Association, whose members fear the frequency of the city closing parts of Main Avenue is hurting their bottom line.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story