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[whitespace] Some Shopkeepers Say The Prunefest Is The Pits

Campbell--Few merchants would say that the prospect of 60,000 people filing past his or her storefront is a bad thing--but when it comes to the PruneFestival, to be held Downtown on May 15 and 16, a handful of Campbell merchants are saying just that.

Business drops considerably during the annual celebration, these shop-owners argue, because the 60,000 people who attend don't actually walk by the shops, but rather in-between 10-foot-tall arts-and-crafts booths backed up against either side of East Campbell Avenue.

At a meeting with Chamber of Commerce executive director Betty Deal on May 7, these merchants vented their frustrations and suggested some solutions.

"My retail suffers considerably on those days," said Alicia Dayton, the manager of Gargoyles hair salon, who suggested that local businesses be given booth space at a considerably lower price.

Laurie Doss, manager of LZ Premiums, presented a petition signed by 17 downtown business owners who feel that their business has been significantly hurt by the festival.

Village Bistro owner Deak Van Arsdale was one of the names on the petition.

"If you put wall-to-wall vendors on the downtown, you could be any place--Carmel, Monterey," he said. "It doesn't matter that so many people come because [they] can't see the shops."

Merchants fumed that the Chamber of Commerce bills the event as "merchant friendly" and beneficial to downtown businesses when they feel that the PruneFestival represents two of their worst business days of the year.

"It's supposed to show off the town and get the businesses exposure but I lose so much business that day," said Brian Robertson, owner of Brian's Custom Framing. "We get so bored in here."

The Chamber's Betty Deal responded that although the actual festival days may not bring a windfall of cash to every downtown merchant, the residual effect of the exposure is very valuable to downtown businesses. And this year, she said, the Chamber plans to do more to facilitate better access to the sidewalks.

"At last year's Oktoberfest, yes, the booths were close together, and yes, there were not that many openings [to the sidewalk]--but that will not happen again," Deal said. "This year there will be staggered openings between the booths. Whether the complete opening in front of every business will be there, no. But there will be access to the sidewalks."

If merchants want to ensure that a significant space will be open in front of their business, they must purchase a booth space from the Chamber of Commerce. Downtown business owners get a small break. Whereas most booth operators must pay $195 for a slot, plus 10 percent of their profits, downtown businesses can purchase the space for just $175.

To some, this deal isn't good enough, especially since merchants already pay the city between $100-150 for a business license.

"I think it's unfair that the Chamber, a private business, can come in and charge money so that businesses have access to their customers," said Will Solley, manager at Village Bistro. "If you don't buy one, they just stick a booth in front of your store. Last year they put an espresso booth right across from Deak."

Melanie Moore, who owns Shanel's Spring Flowers said that her business all but stops during festivals. She too, believes the booths block her exposure.

"It would be nice if people coming down to the festival could find us," Moore says.

Other merchants however, feel that the $175 cost of a booth to expose their storefront to 60,000 people is invaluable.

"I think that if you put an ad in the paper, which we've all done, I could almost guarantee you that 60,000 people don't see it, whereas with the PruneFestival and the Oktoberfest a lot of people can see my store," said Michael Fama, owner of Findz, a consignment store.
Cecily Barnes

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