March 26, 2008

New at First Fridays: Beer garden (and controversy)


First Fridays are about to start, and they come with something new this year:

A beer garden on Monument Square.

And controversy.

The issue is summed up by a First Fridays poster taped to the the window of Common Scents on Main Street: The poster's bottom corner has been neatly trimmed off. The corner that used to say: HarborFest Beer Garden at Monument Square.

The beer garden, to be run by HarborFest (with 25% of the profits going to the Downtown Racine Corporation), was a last-minute addition to the First Fridays activities, which in past years has included extended shopping hours downtown on the first Friday of every month from April through September; music on Sixth Street, Main Street and inside some stores; horse-drawn carriage rides and wine and hors d'oeuvres at some stores.
This year's first First Friday is April 4. Schedule is HERE.
The phone lines between merchants started burning up as soon as the poster was distributed. Before they saw the poster, none of the merchants had any inkling there would be a beer garden this year. Now that they know, some are not happy about it.

The gist of the dispute is this: First Fridays is a family, retail shopping event. Encouraging people to sit and drink beer on Monument Square, they fear, will either drive families away, or at the very least provide something that keeps potential shoppers from wandering around the shops downtown. And it is the shopping that First Fridays was created for: it is an event organized and supported by the retailers themselves, some 43 of whom this year ponied up $200 each to pay for the musicians, posters, horse-drawn carriage and advertising.

Nobody I spoke to objects to HarborFest; a few question why DRC should benefit, since the lion's share of the event's costs are borne by the merchants. But the core objection is that the beer garden will change the focus of the event, and detract from its main purpose: shopping downtown.

As Doug Wick, owner of Common Scents said, "It's moving away from the idea of bringing people to our shops, in favor of getting people more hammered. This steps over into a party event, rather than a retailer event."

Wick, whose father opened a photo studio on Main Street in 1947, and who has operated his own connected trio of shops -- Pack 'n Ship, Common Scents and Wick's Photo Studio -- since 1986, said, "In a nutshell, this takes away from the restaurants and bars, and detracts from the retailers who are the only reason there's a downtown. The little retailer is the blood flow of downtown."

It's not at all about HarborFest, he made clear. "I sympathize with the effort of HarborFest, because it's a great event." (Financial difficulties have cancelled this year's HarborFest, although organizers promise it will be back in 2009.)

For the most part, other retailers I spoke to see the beer garden the same way; a few are reserving judgment and one bar owner didn't see any problem.

Sherry Etes, owner of Uncorkt, is the merchant most in favor of the beer garden. As the one-woman committee handling all the details of this year's First Fridays events it was her decision. "It was never intended to be a drunk fest," she said.

Etes defended both HarborFest ("It's a good cause; it helps out the city, raising money for lots of good events like the Theatre Guild and Jeans Jazz.") and DRC which, she said, "is a huge supporter of First Fridays," paying for radio advertising, mailings and providing the Ambassadors.

She explained that Joe Mooney, president of HarborFest, proposed the beer garden to her and Devin Sutherland, executive director of DRC, "at the last minute. If I thought it would be unsettling, I never would have gone there," she said.

Still, listening to the objections she's heard, she said, "If the beer garden doesn't work, we can cut it off after the first one. Bringing people downtown, that's a good thing. If it's going the wrong way, it will be shut down."

42 comments:

  1. Yeah, they'll shut it down alright. After the cops come, arrest people, and it makes the papers!

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  2. I'd be interested to know if Uncorkt will be selling their wine in the beer garden.....

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  3. Uncorkt can't sell wine in the beer garden. The license would have to be in the non-profit's name for the city to grant the license. State laws are very clear on this...product sold must be purchased direct from a wholesaler by the license holder.

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  4. What "family" oriented events does Wisconsin have that do not serve alcohol? Even Chucky Cheese's sells beer! I personally like the idea, we come down every month for First Fridays and it would be nice to be able to enjoy a beer outside on a warm summer night. It's not something that is going to hold us back from strolling the downtown and shopping. I find this kind of hypocritical, because a lot of the stores serve cocktails to their customers on First Fridays. Plus, I think it's great that successful downtown events want to work together with an event (Harborfest) that raises money to help support other community events.

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  5. concrete katie3/27/2008 1:44 PM

    Escuse me. DRC does not pay for the ambassadors. The B.I.D. #1 (Business Improvement District) pays for them unfortunately. That's the building owners downtown....and those of us who pay on Sixth Street are closed off, shut down and out of luck and business and people and even a street!
    I doubt DRC pays for the advertising either, it is probably we suckers who got the B.I.D. forced upon us years ago (that's a double tax folks) so that we who benefit not at all can build up Main Street at the expense of the rest of the downtown.
    Who benefits from turning Monument Square into a beer garden?? Who needs ambassadors??? We need people walking our streets. We need a real chamber of commerce.

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  6. This has a terrible Becker stench to it. Underhanded and sneaky.

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  7. This is so very wrong. First Friday's are for the downtown year round businesses. Each small business stays open late. The bars, coffee shops, restaurants, cheesecake shop, and more stay open late and look forward to these events to help their bottom line. This has been a bad winter with all the snow, 6th Street construction, and the economy as it is. Now this. We look forward to these First Friday's to bring people back and what does DRC do but...put music in the monument and a beer garden. Take the money and the customers and try to keep them all in one place. Ane the money goes to a Non-Downtown business. This is so very wrong. I may be in the minority but I hate Harborfest and how it has been run. I have no respect in DRC and would lose even more each and every year if I had any to lose. I will attend every First Friday. I will not step foot near this beer garden. I will give my money and business to those businesses that are open year round and make our downtown what a success it is. Joe Mooney has not helped downtown. DRC is a stick in the eye for downtown. I will be at Java Vino, Olde Madrid, Shillings, Jewels, Sheepish, and more. Shame on you DRC, once again. Zero respect in the downtown businesses...take the money and run. Go away DRC, go away Harborfest

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  8. I agree. There are so many things wrong with this I don't know where to start. The MERCHANTS MUST HAVE A SAY IN THESE DECISIONS!!!!!!

    I'm cutting off that portion of my calendar as well.

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  9. Sorry, I meant to say "poster". Although it also has the dates.

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  10. Sorry to see this opportunity to add the beer garden to this event -- and for so many reasons.

    But if we're talking family friendly, what the city and DRC really needs to do is to attend to the huge amount of smoking during downtown events like Party on the Pavement and concerts, etc.

    There was so much smoking on the Party on the Pavement that we left early. Our eyes were burning our clothes were reeking!

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  11. Cigarette smoke at Party on the Pavement was disgusting. Our grandchild almost had his eye poked with someone swinging a cigarette butt, but it grazes his hair and didn't set it on fire. I then had my jacket singed by someone else who backed up into me. Who would have thought that Party on the Pavement would have so blasted many smokers.

    I would like refreshments on Monument Square, my husband can park himself there and visit or babysit while we shop. I don't know the details about the beer garden but if there is one, I would think the merchants who sponsor the event would benefit from it and not the DRC.

    I would love wine sampling after some browsing in the stores. I also wouldn't mind a beer.

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  12. Just a guess but I think the biggest reason the beer garden will be there is that someone thinks those beer guzzlers will have wives who will want wine. Hmm, where would they get that?

    Not to mention ALL liquor laws pertaining to open beverages on the street are ignored that night. Not only do I see a bunch of beer cups laying around the square on Saturday I suspect there will be plenty of wine bottles as well.

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  13. and a whole lot of cigarette butts.

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  14. This is why Downtown Racine has not grown...you have the people who do and the people who complain. It's interesting that the person who wrote the article is the same person that did nothing while he ran the newspaper to help downtown grow...except let the building fall into disrepair.

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  15. I have attended quite a few Frist Fridays since the inception and it is indeed rare to note an individual under the age of 30 participating. I have not witnessed many parents sipping wine and eating cheese at the various stores with children in tow. So to claim this as a family affair is a stretch.

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  16. OK, re-phrase. Non dirtball event.

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  17. I believe DRC is Down Right Clueless to what it takes to promote downtown shopping. Having the stores stay open until 9:00 pm was a good start. Adding a few street musicians is OK. Adding a beer garden is self-serving to DRC/HarborFest and slap in the face to those establishment that sell food beer ect. IF DRC and HaborFest are hard up for $'s maybe they can walk around with a tin cup out asking for donations. First Fridays should be used to keep people on the streets visiting merchants and First Saturdays can be used to entertain on the square.

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  18. Yeah, screw Harborfest. They are the ones who mismanaged their way out of a gig. I would think the bars and restaurants down there would be pissed about this.

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  19. If I owned an establishment that sold beer downtown or on 6th street, I would be furious. Isn't the purpose of first fridays to bring traffic into to merchants instead of merchants into the traffic?

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  20. Sherry Etes, owner of Uncorkt, is the merchant most in favor of the beer garden. (Who do you think will be selling Wine Etc to those after going to the Beer Garden)

    Etes ...and DRC which, she said, "is a huge supporter of First Fridays," paying for radio advertising( The BID pays for the Raido spots and are put on WRJN
    that is owned by Etes husband and that is another no bid contact using public money) ,mailings and providing the Ambassadors.( Who love to give young Black and Hispanic kids a hard time got to keep downtown rich and white)
    Yes I can see lots of Moms and Dads going downtown for first Drunks I mean Friday's

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  21. Minor correction. He is the General Manager. The station is part of a corporate chain.

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  22. How about health-friendly? Unrestricted cigarette smoking harms everyone -- not just kids!

    I've noticed and smelled so much cigarette smoking at these public events, which is very disheartening that there is so little disregard for people of all ages who don't like, or literally can't breathe cigarette smoke.

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  23. How exactly does one put a radio advertising contract out to bid when Racine only has one radio station?

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  24. If the idea is to get folk to come to Racine would not other stations perhaps do that better?
    and one can also look at ratings WRJN is call the Radio Station of the dead because of the age group that tunes in is this the group who is coming downtown or would come downtown?
    or a way to reward friends of the DRC?
    Then too is Radio the way to market downtown?
    Perhaps an internet radio show would be better (be cheaper since programs like Blog Talk Radio is free)but that would mean someone at DRC knew marketing or WEB 2.0

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  25. Huge discussion among friends who went with us these past years to Party on the Pavement. They come in from out of town but no more, why? because of the smokers who attend Party on the Pavement.

    This issue has just bugged the heck out of us. Beautiful weather, great event and a cloud of cigarette smoke and cigarette butts all over the place, argh.

    Why not forbid cigarette smoking at that event. I gotta tell you it can be done. Walworth County Fair, the huge grandstand - well you can't smoke in the grandstand, nope, nada. It makes it so pleasant to watch all of the Fair events and not have someone blow smoke in your children's faces.

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  26. I know WEB 2.0 and I think I will give the DRC a demonstration of WEB 2.0 power.
    A weekly (with daily updates when neeeded)program about Downtown Racine
    the first program will cover the BID 1 and how that money is spent. I am hoping to give the percentage of open store fronts on Main St (From St to 6th St) I will also be preparing the first of many Open Records requests .
    Time for answers to bold questions!
    The format will be a Internet Radio show that can be downloaded to any computer or even Emailed. There might be a Bloger Blog to go with it.

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  27. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Downtown-Racine/2008/03/29/Downtown-Racine-The-BID-Report

    You can tune in live at 2:30 PM today
    or download after.
    30 min show Chat will be open but we will not be talking phone calls.
    The power of the Press used to belong to those who owned the presses not anymore

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  28. It is so cute when bloggers think they are relevant.

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  29. Tell that to Druge

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  30. Listened live at 2:30 pm, I would say the comments were very relevant - Takes blogging to another level - Great First Show

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  31. Great show at 2:30. I will for sure listen to the future shows so keep it up. Great comments.

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  32. Sunday 8:00 AM the Uptown art Project. we will do more on the Bid #1 too.
    Thanks for the feedback and my first hate mail! :)

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  33. I there anyway to interact?

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  34. Go to the web site about I will have the Chat open.

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  35. I would like to say Thanks to the Racine Post for the link!

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  36. Just heard first Friday advertised on WRJN - come on down and visit the HarborFest Beer Garden - What The .....

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  37. I would like to know what the city ordinances are regarding open intoxicants on city sidewalks

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  38. Simple. Unless you are in an approved "sidewalk cafe" it is ilegal. Although Racine ignores the rules.

    I wonder what kind of permit they have?

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  39. Don't blame the police for ignoring it. They are told from "up above" (and I don't mean god, although Becker thinks he is) to ignore it. Call the mayor's office and complain.

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  40. Urban Pioneer4/03/2008 9:49 PM

    Hey Anonymous Anti-Smoker person. Give it up. Don't like the smoke go in the stores!! There is No smoking in there!. On First Fridays leave the small kids at home. Bring them on Sat's, and the many other family friendly events. On the streets making smoking unlawful; are you KIDDING!! I don't smoke, if a Tavern or restuarant wants to go Smoke Free they'll get my business. But Please no more Laws!!
    Second point: Having this event be a Beer attitude versus a Wine and cheese grown up affair for First Friday's is counter productive. I'll be down there but no money spent on Monument Square, Support the Pub's and gallery's and shops who are rolling out their best effort for your community.
    I think You can Buy beer in several places downtown, that night!! yep about 20!! See ya downtown Folks!

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  41. amen Brotha

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  42. Being new to the area I have not had much reason to frequent the downtown area simply put there never seems to be a reason to. This First Friday event sounds great and whats wrong with being able to enjoy a beer or two while exploring what the downtown has to offer? I think some of you are overreacting just a bit.

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