Mayor: We don’t want ‘a few bad apples’ to spoil car show

Published 5:28 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Elizabethton mayor doesn’t want “a few bad apples” to spoil the Saturday night car show for the city.
Mayor Curt Alexander said he believes recent merchant complaints about the weekly car cruise-in stem from the behavior of a small group of participants who are setting up chairs in front of businesses prior to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
“Most people’s problem is not that you have people coming early down there to park their car and eat lunch and shop and do whatever,” said Alexander. “The problem comes when those people come early … set up shop in front of businesses that are open and trying to do business and hinder customers from coming in and out.”
The city council earlier this month agreed to allow the weekly cruise-in event to return to Elizabethton from April through October, despite concerns expressed by some business owners over the event’s monopolization of Elk Avenue on Saturday nights and its impact on commerce. City officials said they would work to relocate other events planned for the area during the car show season and to provide more regulation, but opponents have continued to say the city has failed to enforce restrictions previously.
Alexander said no specific rules for the event are in place, other than not setting up prior to 5 p.m.
“We as a city should have probably had an officer walking up and down the sidewalk saying, ‘Hey we don’t allow this until 5 p.m. and if you don’t mind, do what you need to do to stay busy until 5 p.m.’ That way you don’t have the complaint from the businesses that say people are setting up early,” Alexander said.
“What I don’t want to happen is for a few bad apples to spoil it for everybody because if we continue to have complaints we as a council will have no choice but to limit the car show, and we don’t want to do that.”
Alexander admits the city has “not done a good job of expressing what those rules are.”
Parking, which takes place on public streets, is not the primary concern, he said. “If they are down there they are probably eating lunch or in one of those shops. There is plenty of parking downtown for everybody. It’s the hindering of people coming in and out of businesses that concerns us. And that is where the police can say that there is no setting up in front of a business until 5 p.m.”
And while there is no law prohibiting the people from setting up chairs in front of businesses prior to 5 p.m., there is an understood rule. Alexander said the city could do more to discourage the activity.
“It’s not a law but if a policeman were to say that, it carries a lot more weight than if you or I were to say that to them. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people who are doing that are not car club members so it’s really hard for the car club as well because it’s people who are coming here who are not car club members and may not know the rules,” he said.
Car Club President Thomas Franklin said the club wants to work with the city and that is why he was willing to compromise and have additional events on Elk Avenue during the Saturday evening cruise-ins.
“You have to start somewhere and we will try to do our best to accommodate them,” said Franklin. “We wanted to also see if we can get the city to help us to keep the chairs off the sidewalk until 5 p.m. as well.”
One point of contention that Franklin brought up had to do with a survey conducted by East Tennessee State University, which showed 71% of respondents wanted a change in the car show format.
“I wished that someone would take that survey besides me and read what it says,” said Franklin. “It said that 148 businesses were sent the survey but only 48 of them returned the survey.” Of those, Franklin said, several respondents are not open on Saturdays.
“It makes it look bad on Elizabethton, it makes it look bad on them (businesses), and it makes it look bad on everyone when they find out what’s going on,” he said.
Alexander also takes offense at inferences that the car show draws crowds to the community that doesn’t meet the shopping demographic.
Joy McCray, executive director of the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce, in a recent interview said “all crowds are not good crowds.”
“That is my whole argument and that is why I disagree with what Joy (McCray) said in the paper on Sunday,” said Alexander. “I feel that she is incorrect. She pretty much said some crowds are bad and that type of crowd doesn’t help businesses. I tend to disagree because if I am in the restaurant business, if I have a 1,000 extra people walking past my front door, there is a lot greater chance that I am going to have more business whether they are from the car show or from the Covered Bridge Music on the Bridge — wherever they are from, the more traffic to me signifies more business.
“And if our job is to promote commerce in downtown Elizabethton, you can only do that when more people are down there.”
Franklin agreed.
“The car club brings in people,” said Franklin. “It brings in more money and people than anything in Elizabethton. That doesn’t mean that we did great, it means that Elizabethton is great. It does a lot of things — it brings people in to eat, to shop, and they can come in to a family event and not have all kinds of drinking where they can spend time with their family and enjoy their time which is great.
“The car club doesn’t come down there to try to beat anybody. All we try to do is come down there to meet a goal that we have and that is to help children with money at Christmas which is donated because of the car cruise-ins. Last year we gave out over $26,000 and in seven years we have given over $176,000.”
Alexander said regardless of the statements and arguments on social media, the city welcomes the car club and he believes through mutual cooperation between the city and the car club, the problem can be resolved.
“The car club has said that if you want to have an event, we will help you,” Alexander said. “We will shut off the area — whatever you need just let us know.
“We want them there because it means they are spending money. The problem with downtown is a lot of business owners and workers who are parking in the front and that’s fine but don’t blame parking as the problem.”

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