After a nearly hour-long exchange between West Jefferson Aldermen, members of the public and local business owners, the aldermen decided against holding the second annual antiques fair on the site preferred by the organizers of the event citing stiff opposition from one business potentially impacted by the location, Main Street from Badger Funeral Home to Jefferson Avenue.
The aldermen, instead, informally approved as the site of the fair the downtown block bordered by E. Main, North 3rd Avenue, East 1st Street, and 4th Avenue.
That informal approval, however, was tentative because at least one of the businesses potentially impacted by the fair, the Sears Hometown Store, had not been contacted to determine if its owners would support or oppose the proposed site of the fair.
This was the third meeting at which the topic of the fair site was on the aldermen’s agenda. In January, the aldermen approved the Main Street site. In February, the aldermen rescinded their decision citing opposition from two businesses that could potentially be negatively impacted by the Main Street location, Parkway Theater and Parker Tie Co., and asked the organizers to attend the March meeting to offer an alternative site.
In February, the West Jefferson Business Association held a meeting and decided to endorse the Main Street site instead of another location proposed during the aldermen’s February meeting, Jefferson Avenue from the corner of Main to 2nd Street.
As the discussion began at West Jefferson’s Town Hall Monday night, the fair’s primary organizer Keith Woodie, the owner of West Jefferson’s Antiques on Main, gave a brief overview of the activity since the aldermen’s vote to rescind the decision in February.
Speaking to the aldermen, Woodie said the WJBA and the West Jefferson Community Partnership had endorsed the Main Street location. He said one of the primary reasons for the support of the Main Street site was the street is owned by West Jefferson and the need to get approval from the N.C. Department of Transportation for the Jefferson Avenue site, proposed in February at the aldermen meeting, wouldn’t then be necessary.
After Woodie addressed the aldermen, Shelley Felder, the owner of the Honey Hole, which is located on N. 3rd Avenue, voiced her support for the Main Street site and talked about the impact on sales the antique fair had for her business last year.
Felder said, according to notes of the meeting’s minutes provided by W.J. Town Clerk Wesley Barker, that her last September sales were down until the weekend of the fair.
During that one weekend, said Felder, she generated more sales than she had the entire month; even greater than the Christmas in July festival.
Felder also addressed the opposition to the site by two local downtown businesses. “It is just one Saturday out of the entire year.”
Lisa Willingham, who co-owns the Artist Theatre with her husband Steve, also supported the Main Street location.
“We do what we do to get people to come to town in September. Keith and Rex (Goss) came up with the idea (for the first fair last year) and it went beautifully…it went very smoothly. After the fair, there were some complaints, so we looked at other areas. I was thrilled about it in front of my store,” said Willingham.
“We are hoping that you will reconsider having on Main Street. It is a fresh location,” said Willingham.
She also addressed opposition by the two business owners to the Main Street proposal.
“Most any business could expand on it,” said Willingham.
Woodie then jumped back into the discussion.
“We’re doing this to help each and every business in West Jefferson…we’re trying to develop street festivals for these types of businesses…our objective is to do this for the businesses…to help them out,” said Woodie.
He also addressed opposition to the Main Street location.
“We’re always going to have one that has a complaint,” said Woodie.
Alderman Lester Mullis then asked Woodie about the dates of the event, which had been part of the original proposal the aldermen passed in January. The antique fair is scheduled for the last weekend in September, the 28th and 29th.
Woodie said the vendors for the fair would begin set up on Friday night after the downtown businesses had closed. The fair would begin on Saturday with the possibility of continuing through on Sunday. He said he has had several request to provide gospel music on Sunday.
Mullis then said the aldermen were very “much aware” of the importance of tourism for the town. He said that recognition was demonstrated by the town’s construction of the streetscapes, new street lights, sidewalks and the town clock.
However, said Mullis, “the board works hard to protect the business owners that have been here long term.”
Later, Alderman Calvin Green reinforced the point made by Mullis.
“We’re all for new business, but we’ve got to take care of the other businesses…they’re our bread and butter.”
Alderman Tom Hartman agreed with Green. “We’ve got to protect our core businesses,” he said.
Alderman Stephen Shoemaker asked about the possibility of blocking Main Street below the Parkway Theater towards Badger Funeral Home.
“That would be a good location…grassy areas and not many businesses affected in this area,” said Shoemaker.
Addressing the opposition by the owners of the Parkway Theater, Alderman Dr. Brett Summey said he understood their concerns.
“(The theater) could lose a lot of business because this is the only time he can operate,” said Summey.
He also said, however, that he wanted to have the fair in town.
Woodie responded to Mullis’ comments about making West Jefferson more tourist friendly.
“This (the fair) is to get people to see what you have done. I’ve said nothing negative about the aldermen not promoting tourism,” said Woodie.
Hartman then proposed what eventually became the tentative site for the fair, the downtown block bordered by E. Main, North 3rd Avenue, East 1st Street, and 4th Avenue.
However, after he made his proposal, several people watching the meeting began speaking up, voicing their concern about having one business dictate where the fair could be held.
Steve Willingham, who owns Artist Theatre with is his wife Lisa, said, “I don’t believe one person should be the deciding factor for all businesses.”
Several others at the meeting voiced the same concern, including asking how the annual antique fair in Hillsville, Va., might have overcome these objections.
“The whole town is closed off,” said one person. “How do you think they did that?”
Mullis suggested holding off on making a final decision on the site until after the business owners potentially impacted by the Hartman proposal were contacted.
Mayor Dale Baldwin said he thought a decision was needed.
“We’ve got to settle this,” said Baldwin.
With that, Shoemaker, at the urging of several in the audience, made a motion to have the fair at the originally proposed site on Main Street.
Shoemaker’s motion did not get a second from the other aldermen.
Baldwin said twice there is a motion on the floor.
There was no response from the other aldermen.
Baldwin then announced the motion died because of a lack of a second.
Shoemaker looked at the audience and said, “I tried.”
Hartman then made a motion to define the route he had proposed earlier. It got a second.
However, before the aldermen could vote, they decided to not formally endorse the site until the businesses, Sears Hometown Store, specifically, were contacted to determine if they were agreeable to the fair location.
With that decided, Woodie said, “I’ll be back in April.”