By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Harvest Homecoming Booth Days create somewhat of a paradox for downtown New Albany business owners.
The festival draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city each year, but for four days, access to many local businesses becomes difficult.
“It does affect our business greatly, in a negative way,” said Marcey Wisman-Bennett, business manager for Sew Fitting.
The establishment is located inside the White House Centre along Pearl Street. As primarily a service business, Wisman-Bennett said Sew Fitting garners many customers for clothing alterations and repairs.
With streets blocked, parking limited and masses of people gathered in a concentrated area, she said many of those regular customers avoid coming downtown during Booth Days, and that can throw off the business’s bottom line.
A few years ago some of the tenants of the White House Centre split the cost of a booth. Wisman-Bennett said the primary reason for reserving the booth was so people could have access to the building.
But she added someone had to be paid to operate the booth while the businesses were open.
“It was just a waste of our time and our money,” Wisman-Bennett said.
Matt McMahan owns The Warehouse Hookah Bar and Cafe off State Street and The Irish Exit along Main Street.
Both businesses are downtown but just off the official Harvest Homecoming path. McMahan said accessibility to his establishments hasn’t been an issue during Booth Days.
He conceded he doesn’t have to deal with booths setup in front of his establishments, but added the lack of parking hasn’t detracted from sales either.
“The beer walk alone helps justify my rent for the whole year,” said McMahan in reference to the unofficial bar and restaurant swing that starts each Friday afternoon of Booth Days.
“On the bar end, we definitely capitalize on all the people down there.”
McMahan and Wisman-Bennett said Booth Days impact businesses differently depending on the kinds of services they offer.
While McMahan said alcohol sales are high during Booth Days, he added he’s heard complaints from restaurant owners who focus more on dining about accessibility to their businesses.
Some local establishments branch off the festival to hold their own events. Wick’s Pizza Parlor will host bands and charge admission for live music in an area adjacent to the State Street business this year, and the New Albanian Brewing Co. will again hold Fringe Fest at its Bank Street location.
But due to booths, issues over public property and safety concerns, other businesses aren’t always able to utilize the space around them for special events to coincide with the festival.
Also dozens of non local vendors setup booths during the event, often times in front of area businesses.
Harvest Homecoming President Micah Arnold acknowledged that Booth Days can create some accessibility issues for downtown businesses, but he added the festival also generates great potential for those same establishments.
“Your regular customers may have a hard time getting in, but we’re dumping 400,000 to 600,000 customers at your doorstep during the festival,” Arnold said.
Though businesses might not be as physically visible during the festival, owners can hand out brochures and coupons to people who may frequent their stores long after Booth Days wraps up, he continued.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to get new customers for now and in the future,” Arnold said.
He added businesses receive first priority to reserve the booth space in front of their establishments for the festival.
But as Wisman-Bennett alluded to with Sew Fitting, Harvest Homecoming wants booths located in those spaces when some businesses just want a path to their doors cleared.
She said the Harvest Homecoming Committee and business owners should meet to discuss the issue, as she added she doesn’t have an answer as to how to rectify the situation.
Arnold said a Harvest Homecoming official attends each downtown merchant’s meeting, which are held on a semi-regular basis, and added those gatherings are a good forum to hold such a conversation.
Terry Middleton’s Karate-Kickboxing-Boxing gym, located off Market Street, is one of downtown New Albany’s oldest businesses.
Middleton said he calls off classes during Booth Days, but added since Harvest Homecoming has been in existence longer than most downtown businesses, it’s hard to complain about a once-a-year inconvenience.
“If you’re downtown, that’s part of it,” he said. “That’s a sacrifice they have to make and I have to make.”
Middleton annually reserves a booth in front of his business, and said the festival provides an opportunity for him to catch up with past students as well as meet new customers.
Most businesses should enjoy benefits from Booth Days, though that means that some will have to be creative in their approaches, Middleton continued.
The festival closes his business each October, but it opens many other doors due to the volume of people who attend the event every year, he continued.
“You can’t buy that kind of exposure,” Middleton said.