Merchants Cry Foul Over Fair

The third annual East Hampton Village Chamber of Commerce Spring Street Fair may have been a success in terms of bringing throngs of visitors to the village, but the event, held Mother’s Day weekend, has apparently left some merchants frustrated and saying the closure of Newtown Lane during the fair cast a pall over their businesses.

A group of business owners met with the chamber’s executive director, Steve Ringel, on May 16 to voice complaints about the fair and ask that plans be modified next year to avoid disrupting local businesses by perhaps changing the date and moving it to Herrick Park.

Valerie Smith, the owner of the Monogram Shop on Newtown Lane, was one of approximately a dozen business owners who met with Ringel in his Park Place office. She took a particularly dim view of the fair and the vendors that came to the village.

“It was the first time I was in the store to witness what I can only describe as retail homicide,” she said. “I was appalled by the quality of the vendors, and the type of vendors. This was the cheesiest, lousiest, the worst jewelry, stuffed animals . . .” Smith also objected to a music stage that had local acts as well as a Beatles tribute band performing, saying the volume reverberated in her store.

Don Horowitz, a co-owner of Wittendale’s Florist and Greenhouse on Newtown Lane said the timing and location were both problematic. Last month, Horowitz made an 11th-hour appeal to the East Hampton Village Board to intervene. He repeated his concerns at East Hampton Village Board meeting on May 17.

“We do 25 percent of our business for the year in the month of May,” Horowitz told the board. “The best compromise for everyone would be to have the fair a week earlier than Mother’s Day and have it in the park.”

Board members, who last month said they would ask that the date be moved, again offered a sympathetic ear, but urged business owners and the chamber to find a solution.

“We wanted nothing more than the location for the fair to be a success. It sounds like there are some difficulties that have to be worked out,” Mayor Paul Rickenbach told Horowitz. “We hear you this morning and we heard you two weeks ago.” Trustee Rosemary Brown said she and other village representatives would meet with the business community “to discuss the unintended consequences of this really great event,” which she praised for bringing the community together.

“We were told all the merchants were in favor of this,” added trustee Barbara Borsack. “I’m surprised there is so much pushback.” She promised Horowitz that a better date and location would be found.

Not all business owners objected to the fair. John Fierro, an owner of Fierro’s Pizza on Park Place, said the influx of foot traffic helped his business, but stressed that was not the only measure of the fair’s success.

“We did fantastic, but it’s not always about your business. It’s about this town. It’s about letting the local people have a little fun,” he said.

Ringel said his meeting with merchants was productive. “It was the first time that many business owners came together to talk about business in the village,” he said, adding that several businesses that were not chamber members may soon be joining the group.

He said on a personal level that he would hate to see the street fair moved off the street. “It was a great event for thousands of people,” he said. “It allowed locals to reconnect with their village. It was extremely successful.”

But he said he had heard the complaints of business owners.

“Many businesses did very well. Some didn’t have great days and they felt the street fair was to blame,” he said. “We’ll explore all the options possible. I want to make it work for everyone. If the business owners on Newtown Lane feel the event must be in the park, their needs need to be addressed.”

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