At a Main Street Eureka Springs meeting Nov. 16, some merchants voiced displeasure about plans to close part of Spring Street on Dec. 9 from 4 p.m. and throughout the evening for a street art festival, Wampus Wonderland Spring Street Night Market.
Jacqueline Wolven, executive director of MSES, told a gathering that about 30 tents would be set up on the part of Spring Street between the Basin Park Hotel and Mountain St. for the night market, and the street will be closed to most traffic during that time.
“It will be a very visible event and will bring shoppers to your store,” Wolven said, adding that 14 parking places would be taken up by the booths. She added that vendors for the Wampus cooperative are vetted artists with one-of-a-kind original art pieces. “There is no stuff made in China, and we’re having more local artists express interest in having a booth,” she told the group of about thirty.
Wolven said emergency traffic would still be able to get through, and shoppers who buy large packages will be allowed drive in to pick them up. Hotel check-ins will be as usual.
Jack Moyer, chair of Main Street Eureka Springs and vice president and general manager of the Crescent and Basin Park Hotels, said the night market would drive more people to visit Eureka Springs.
“I think the event is well planned,” Moyer said. “The National Main Street Association says this type of event is a primary way to boost your main street district.”
“They are bringing people to us who wouldn’t be coming except for Wampus Market,” Jamie Brandt, who owns Tee Rex downtown, said. “Would you trade some traffic congestion for a thousand extra people coming to town?”
Brandt said he honestly doesn’t know if the new event will improve sales at his store that evening, but will know afterwards by comparing sales to the year before, and believes it is worth giving it a shot.
For Bare Feet manager, Sue Marvin, said she would love the extra 1,000 people. But a number of other merchants at the meeting expressed opposition to the event they believe could cut into their sales considerably on what has traditionally been one of year’s bigger sales days.
“Anytime there is a carnival, parade or music in the park, the cash registers stop ringing at my four businesses,” Lisa Knapp said. “Any event that brings an extra thousand people to town causes me to make half what I normally make. There are people on the sidewalks, but not in the shops. We already have to give up so many Saturdays to parades.”
Knapp said some people might question why she is so crabby about what could be a very fun event. For her, it is the bottom line. She said she has been a Spring Street merchant for 34 years, and is disappointed that the mayor has not followed through on earlier promises to move parades to Sundays when they would be less disruptive to local businesses.
Teresa Kolb, who co-owns Eureka & Company on Center St., said she thinks the first priority should be to support retailers who are here year around sustaining the local economy. Kolb said she posted about the Wampus Market on Facebook, and had a lot of people agreeing with her that it seems unfair.
“Our customers were shocked they would do this to the merchants,” she said. “We pay taxes and payroll into the community all year long. We’ll see if it works because we have the financial figures from last year and will compare it.”
It was hard to gauge how much opposition there was to the Wampus event at the meeting because of time constraints. Near the end of the meeting that was supposed to end promptly at 10 a.m., several people were talking at once making it difficult to hear anyone.
One merchant who spoke up early in the meeting about opposition to the event is Karen Lindblad, who owns Gazebo Books on an area of the street slated to be closed. Lindblad said the second weekend in December is traditionally the best weekend for sales all year long.
“December ninth is not the end of the season,” said Lindblad, who has been in business downtown 41 years. “Every time the streets are closed, business drops off.”
Moyer said that the event should be thought of as taking a good shopping day and extending it longer.
“More people will be driven to the district,” he said. “I think the event is well planned.”