The Foothills Fall Festival is gearing up to bring thousands of people to downtown Maryville this weekend. But even a festival, it seems, is not without controversy.
Downtown business owner Richard Clear, owner of Clear’s Silat and Street KungFu, is renewing his push to change the city ordinance that bars businesses from setting up outside their storefronts during the three-day festival.
Clear has been an outspoken critic of the city for an ordinance that prohibits businesses that fall within the Fall Festival’s layout that prohibits businesses from setting up tables in front of their stores.
City Manager Greg McClain said the ordinance is an effort to highlight the juried arts and crafts vendors that are part of ArtWay. “You want to mitigate other things being allowed around (ArtWay) that would offer unfair competition. From the very beginning, there have been folks who wanted to be close to the traffic, and we’ve dealt with it in various ways,” he said. “At no time have we been heavy handed. We tried to give everybody an opportunity to be successful, and we certainly we want the downtown folks to be successful.”
McClain said businesses can sell anything inside their stores buildings and can offer entertainment and activities to draw people in. “Where it becomes a problem is if they set up on the sidewalk and out into the street,” he said.
The city manager said signage such as sandwich boards are allowed on the sidewalks and that efforts have been made for several years to not block the front of area businesses with vendor tents. “There is nothing to stop the local store personnel from milling through and inviting folks to come into their business,” he said.
This year the self-defense instructor said he recruited eight other businesses to help hand out balloons and do face painting and other activities as a way of reaching out.
Clear said the problem started when the City of Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp sent a letter reminding the businesses owners of the ordinance against having tables in front of their businesses, but encouraging them to participate in the festival and a police officer approached businesses and explained consequences for violating the ordinance.
The letter and visit upset Clear, who has organized eight other businesses on East Broadway to offer special activities during the festival to encourage more business. The businesses involved in the effort include: Clear’s Silat and Street Kung Fu, LaRue’s on Broadway, Brackins’, Two-Doors Down, The Copy Shop, Fine Arts Blount, Accurate Image, All Natural Vitamin Shop and Studio 212.
“This year, we have grouped together with businesses on East Broadway to be able to offer and promote our businesses and what we’re doing inside our businesses,” Clear said.
Clear said the businesses all want to be part of the festival. “They have made it painful,” he said of the city. “They do not want us to be a part of it at all. Now the Downtown Association has put their support behind the city for this. The Downtown Maryville Association is supposed to be behind the business owners and not siding with city against business owners.”
In an emailed position statement, Shaun O’Malley, executive director of the Downtown Maryville Association, wrote, “We completely support the City of Maryville in hosting the Foothills Fall Festival, and we do not promote any behavior that goes against city ordinances, breaks any city laws or regulations, intimidates any officials, volunteers, local business owners or participants in the Foothills Fall Festival or any activity that interferes with or inhibits a smooth implementation of the Foothills Fall Festival.”
City of Maryville Events Coordinator Jane Groff said that once the city found out there were possibly several businesses that were unhappy about the ordinance, they reached out to those businesses with a letter and encouraged them to contact them to discuss any problems. “We let them know this is the 12th year of the Festival, and we appreciate their support,” she said.
Groff and McClain said that in talking to the businesses on the list for the special promotions on East Broadway, not all of them were upset with the city and most in the downtown area are happy with the traffic the festival brings them.
McClain said the city has tried real hard to be positive toward everybody. “It is hard to defend yourself without sounding like you’re fighting. The truth is, Richard (Clear) is very unhappy, and we’re not exactly sure why,” McClain said. “It is being painted as it is a much broader thing when it is not.”
Clear said the city was sending “hate mail” to nine specific businesses. “They sent us hate mail threatening us and saying we had to live by the ordinances and that if we’re doing anything that grabs festival-goers attention, it is breaking the law,” he said. “Our lawyers are going to talk to them and if nothing is cleared up, the constitutionality of this will be challenged in court.”
During the festival, Clear said animals from the Blount County Animal Shelter will be on display for adoption in front of his business. “We’ll have free water, bathroom, free massages from Head to Toe Massage,” he said. “We think supporting downtown Maryville and downtown businesses are the same thing and obviously the city doesn’t feel that way. That is why they assumed we are attacking them when we do this.
“We don’t think businesses that are coming here from out-of-town or state and leaving with money they make ought to take precedence over businesses that are here. When people buy from Maryville businesses, the money stays and when they buy from vendors, the money leaves town at the end of the weekend.”
When asked why the Festival moved the ArtWay down from in front of the businesses just east of Cusick Street on East Broadway - right in front of Clear’s business - the city officials said it was a decision made to make the ArtWay more consolidated for security reasons and also to create a more festive atmosphere. The ArtWay now stretches past Roy’s Records all the way down to Boyd Thomas Clothing.
“We’ve gone into the process of re-evaluating ArtWay over the past three years,” Groff said. “In addition, we had multiple issues with how spread out it was down Broadway. It is difficult to manage from a safety point when it is that spread out. With the number of arts and crafts vendors we have, we were able to use the block and create a situation where we can see everything going on and also create a more festive atmosphere.”
McClain said the city has two obligations as a government: put on an event that at least pays for itself and ensure it is fair to everyone. The city manager said the ordinances also protect local businesses from having vendors who aren’t part of the juried arts and crafts show from setting up in front of their businesses. “We can’t just pick and choose and that is what they’re asking us to do,” said McClain. “They want us to turn our head for them, but enforce the ordinance for anyone else who might just show up and set up a table.”
Frank Larue, owner of Accurate Image, said he spoke with McClain. “I talked to the city manager and what he was telling me was nobody can set up on the sidewalk,” Larue said. “The only thing I told him was businesses ought to be able to display their products in front of their business. People are still going to come in regardless, and shop.”
Debra Adsit, owner of All-Natural Vitamin Shop, said she hopes it is a busy weekend but she said it appeared the city was telling her to stay home by saying she could not set up outside her business. Adsit said she plans to have face painting and will give out trail mix treats and goodie bags.
“We’re here all year long. We are downtown Maryville, and what they’re doing is pretty much telling us to stay home this weekend. We’re not going to do that, we’re going to be open. Am I upset with Fall Festival people. They’re catering to out-of-town vendors and I’m fine with that, I’m for Southern hospitality,” she said. “I’m not going to set up a table. Now they’ve moved the entire festival past us. We’re not a part of it anymore. It may hurt us but we’re still going to stay open. We will enjoy it.”
McClain said that businesses closing during the Fall Festival is the last thing the city wants. “Some of the businesses I talked to on Broadway told me that this weekend is the best three days of their year,” McClain said. “We want them to be open, be inviting and do a great business.”
Jeff Breazeale, owner of Two Doors Down on East Broadway, said he supports the downtown merchants as well as the festival. “I just want folks to come in and enjoy something good to eat and drink,” he said.