Business owners scold town for lack of communication.
Main Street business owners approached the Franklin aldermen Monday night to share their discontent with the lack of communication between town officials and downtown merchants.
The frustration of several downtown businesses stems from a push and shove with town officials regarding the monthly Street- Fest events hosted by Venture Local Franklin and Streets of Franklin. To date, four Street- Fests have been successfully executed on Main Street, without any help or support from town officials. “Four StreetFests were planned, one each month from July to October, the first three bringing approximately 600 people downtown each time,” said Martha Holbrook, owner of Rosebud Cottage. “There was a comfortable, friendly, relaxed hometown atmosphere. Many said they ran into old friends and simply enjoyed browsing through the shops, stopping for food, enjoying the different styles of music played and the dance groups that performed.”
Holbrook, who is active in both Venture Local Franklin (VLF) and Streets of Franklin informed the board that the first three events allowed shops to be open late on a Friday night and reported that stores received a good boost in sales as well as an increase in younger shoppers. “It’s imperative that we bring shoppers downtown,” Holbrook, “We have festivals and events, but there has to be more to keep people downtown.”
As Holbrook explained, although October's StreetFest had a good turnout, it paled in comparison to the other months. That decrease in attendance can be attributed in large part to not being able to place a banner across Main Street the week prior to the event. The banner, which was allowed to hang across Main Street for the first three events, was deemed in violation of the Streets and Sidewalk ordinance by Franklin's Town Planner Derek Roland. Originally, Venture Local Franklin received approval from The Department of Transportation, Roland and Franklin's Town Manager Sam Greenwood to hang the banner, but then were informed that it was no longer allowed.
The banner was just one aspect of Street- Fest that got shut down by town officials. One of the highlights of StreetFest were tents set up in parking spaces in front of businesses that allowed stores to have sales and provide special, easily accessible treats to customers. One again, VLF received approval from the Franklin Police Department to set up the tents and were told to do so they needed cones or caution tape on the side of the tent facing the road. Although merchants complied with the requests of law enforcement, and similar tents and vendors are allowed at town sponsored events such as Pickin' on the Square, Franklin Police Chief Adams and Captain Apel informed VLF that the tents were no longer allowed. Adams and Apel said that the tents were not permitted at the October Street- Fest and although he did not know what ordinance stated that it was not allowed, he was acting under the direction of Town Manager Sam Greenwood.
Another aspect of StreetFest that was cancelled at the request of town officials was closing Main Street for two to three minutes for dance performances by a local Zumba group or by the Franklin High School Dance Team. VLF worked with the Franklin police department each month to close the street for two to three minutes to allow the performances, but come October, VLF was informed that under the direction of town officials, the performances would no longer be permitted and were not given an explanation why.
Since its inception, VLF has reached out to members of the town board, the town manager and Linda Schlott, Executive Director of Franklin's Main Street program. Any emails sent to groups of VLF were also sent to Schlott. VLF sought to include the town in any and all ideas for the betterment of Franklin. Schlott attended the first VLF meeting, but has not participated in the community group since, nor has she attended the StreetFest events even though she is the Executive Director of the Main Street Program. Schlott was in attendance during Monday night's town board meeting, but did not speak.
“I took a risk opening a business as have all the other business owners,” said Holbrook. “We are risk takers and understand that to succeed we have to shoulder responsibility to make things happen. This is our livelihood, this is our family, these are our employees because they all depend on us and we that this very serious.”
Holbrook encouraged the town to work with downtown businesses in a combined effort to move Main Street forward.
Rob Gasbarro, co-owner of Outdoor 76, also addressed the issue of an urgent need for the shop owners on Main Street and the town aldermen to work with each other and not against each other. “Merchants, the team, the building owners, we are the faces of this county,” Gasbarro said. “There’s little cooperative effort and we need to change that. This is personal for us. This is something that we’ve got to see a change.”
Gasbarro noted that although his desire to approach the board was separate from the conflict regarding StreetFest, the intention is the same; he wants to see town officials working hand-in-hand with merchants to gather ideas and build on the resources and strengths currently existing apart and unite them for the betterment of the community.
Gasbarro pointed out to the aldermen that in the 1970s Greenville, S.C., was the size of Franklin and did not have nearly the resources or character that is evident here, yet with a cooperative effort among business owners and town leadership, the city has grown and is continuing to expand and provide for residents.
Cory McCall, co-owner of Outdoor 76, agreed with Gasbarro and added that although they have only been in operation for two years, Outdoor 76 is expanding and not just taking over the People's building, but is currently working to recruit two new businesses to share the store front with them.
“One of my professors at Western Carolina University said that, ‘communication is key to all personal and professional relationships,’” McCall said. “We can not do it without your help. We cannot exist without you, nor can the town operate without Main Street merchants.”
McCall mentioned that up until a week ago, the two open slots in the new People's store was designated to new businesses and at the last minute they backed out. “ I don't want to say it is because of what has recently happened with the town and StreetFest, but these were young couples who have been here several times over the last few months,” said Mc- Call. “I had shown them real estate and they had been here to see the unique diversity that Franklin has to offer, and they were all but moved in, and now we have to start all over.”
McCall, who hopes to be moved in to the People's building by February, said he hopes that in 55 years people can look at Outdoor 76 with the same respect as they do J.C. Jacobs, who kept People's going for the last 55 years. “We want to have that impact and effect on this community,” said McCall.
On behalf of the town board Mayor Joe Collins spoke of the need for VLF, Streets of Franklin, town officials and the Main Street Program to work together. “All three of the spokesmen spoke of a better need of communication between Town Hall and Main Street,” Collins said. “We certainly owe it to ourselves, to everybody. We need to do that.”
Collins asked a packed Town Hall who was there to support Holbrook, Gasbarro, McCall, and nearly the entire room raised their hands. When asked if what three speakers said was indicative of the crowds feelings and perspective on the matter, everyone shook their head in unison. “I personally will try, with the help of the board, to arrange the type of forum, a bit more comfortable, to discuss these issues,” Collins said.
In the coming weeks, the town board agreed to facilitate a meeting with the Main Street Program, VLF, Streets of Franklin and town officials to work together for the benefit of the community.