Shop owner: Cruise-in compromise offers ‘very little benefit’

Published 9:50 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

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One month after the Elizabethton City Council granted approval for the Carter County Car Club’s Saturday night cruise-ins, some downtown business owners remain concerned about the disruptions to their business.
“I am the proud owner of Fletcher’s Homemade, which is a quilting and sewing shop located at 510 East Elk Ave.,” said Lisa Fletcher during the public comments section of the town council’s Thursday meeting. “Last fall, I as a business owner came before you and asked for your help. We were experiencing disruptions to our businesses caused by a seven-month stretch of weekly cruise-in events every Saturday from the first of April to the end of October.
“We came respectfully and politely asking for your help. We are small business owners in a small town who work very hard and are only asking for some consideration and a compromise.”
Fletcher said she had discussed the issue with Main Street Director Courtney Bean who told Fletcher that those concerns are brought up all the time from downtown shops. However, businesses are afraid to show up and share their opinion according to Fletcher because it results in, “our names being dragged through the social media mud.”
“There’s a reason for that; it’s concerning and I want you to take it seriously,” said Fletcher. “We have been misquoted, threatened with boycotts and property damage.
“The City Council called for a stop to this behavior, just to see a temporary slowdown. This is why attendance by downtown merchants is so few at these meetings. I wondered why before but now it is clear.”
Fletcher said that Mayor Curt Alexander had proposed a meeting between business owners and car club representatives, and the business owners agreed with the request of having a moderator. However, she said Alexander met independently with the car club president and devised a compromise.
“This compromise gave downtown business owners very little benefit, then after the meeting, details of the compromise were adjusted to the point that there was no benefit for downtown businesses,” Fletcher said. “As a result, the chamber of commerce is moving major events during the spring and summer season, as there is no co-existing on Saturdays with the cruise-in. Our city is moving major events for a weekly club meeting, which is beyond stupid.”
Alexander was absent from Thursday’s meeting.
“I would like to ask the mayor, who is not here, to stop saying that he cares about small businesses,” said Fletcher. “Actions speak louder than words. You don’t care, and evidently I am the last one to finally get it. My neighbors have been telling me this for years, and at last I finally believe them.”
Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Bill Carter said Friday that the car club cruise-in issue had already been addressed for this year but he realizes that it will be an ongoing issue that the council will continue to monitor.
“We will always keep our ears open and listen to each and every individual’s concern, but in the end run we will be making a decision that will benefit the majority,” said Carter, who shared that he has been personally told by three businesses that if the cruise-ins don’t occur they will be forced to close the doors of their business because the car show is what helps them survive.
“We have agreed to work with the car club that if a business wishes to have an event that we will work to make sure they have the adequate space opened where they can have their event. If both sides of this keep firing shots at each other, it’s going to be hard to get over because if someone offers a comment even on social media, someone is going to be there to take offense to it,” Carter said.
Fletcher said Thursday that the business owners have been disrespected.
“You have disrespected us with comments like  ‘cars are cheaper than women’ and suggesting that we change our stores to appeal to the car club, as if we don’t have enough junk stores downtown,” Fletcher said. “We were not allowed to speak during the last meeting, which we respected, even though several fans of the car club were allowed to. Since that last meeting, my shop has been open for four and a half years, and never has a city council member showed up or stopped by to check on me.”
Another business owner, James Martin of Bookworm Books, spoke in favor of the cruise-ins and reminded the council of what he has seen as a business owner.
“I was here at the last meeting, and would actually like to thank the people that understand that the car show is not actually ruining Saturday evenings downtown,” said Martin. “We might remember that some of the people older than me have said that the best days in Elizabethton were on the weekends when there was so many people in town on the weekends that you could hardly walk down the sidewalk.
“I would like to remind you that customers are blocked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, every month, year after year by downtown business owners and downtown employees parking their cars for hours and hours at a time, if not the whole day, in the prime parking spaces in downtown.
“I actually had a customer today, and the first thing she said to me was that she could not find a parking space, and at the time she said that, there were very definitely business owners’ cars in those prime spaces, the same cars that are there day after day after day. Downtown is an amazing place with wonderful places to stop, shop, and eat if there were places for customers to park throughout the week.”
The cruise-ins take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. beginning on Saturday evenings in April and running through October.

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