Havre de Grace council votes down proposal for "Third Fridays" event; business owners divided

There will be no "Third Fridays" for Havre de Grace.

The city council struck down a proposal Monday to expand the highly-popular First Fridays downtown event, citing concerns about diluting the brand and wasting resources.

Councilman Joe Smith, who owns Glyph Art and Design Studio downtown, was alone in voting in favor of Third Fridays.

Business owners and residents, meanwhile, were divided as they passionately urged the council to vote either for or against the new event.

Steve Sheppard, president of Havre de Grace Main Street, said 78 percent of downtown merchants supported a "Third Fridays," in a recent survey the group took that included e-mail blasts and social media polls.

He was not surprised the council voted down the event.

"They just don't want to have any change," he said after the meeting.

Councilman Bill Martin, however, said he grew up traveling with his parents' antique business and has seen events, such as a mid-Atlantic antique show, destroyed by attempts to split them up.

"I have seen a lot of good shows split in half and they have always, always failed," he told the audience. "I have never seen taking a successful event and divide it have positive results."

Martin warned that such a failure means no going back.

"Once it's gone and once you destroy the reputation, it's gone. You are competing with Bel Air for First Fridays and I think we have the competitive edge on it," he said. "It's not that I don't want it to succeed. I don't want it to fail."

Council members Fred Cullum and Dave Glenn also said they were worried about First Fridays being "diluted and watered down by adding another Friday."

Glenn quoted another survey of business owners in which only 50 percent supported the idea and defended the council's rejection of Third Fridays.

"It was not a vote against Main Street," he told those in attendance.

Glenn suggested holding an event on a different day or trying a different type of special event, such as a strawberry festival.

"The concepts out there are endless," he said.

Several business owners, who were against Third Fridays, compared it to the popular "Monday Night Football" show being diluted by being broadcast on other days.

John Klisavage, of Washington Street Books & Music, said older customers have stopped coming because they do not want to park several blocks away, while others see traffic cones set up in advance and think they already cannot park close to the stores they want.

First Fridays "has been a discouragement to our business, both the day before and right up to the day the event is taking place," he said.

Most business owners liked First Fridays but some had doubts about adding another such event.

Shalonn Lawson, of Java By the Bay, said Third Fridays would hurt businesses like hers.

"Main Street has taken the idea of, 'Let's bring people to businesses' to 'Let's bring vendors in to compete with the businesses downtown,'" she said. "That is not what Havre de Grace is."

"I truly believe it's going to dilute what we already have," Lawson said of the idea.

But Carl Lucas, owner of the relatively new Concord Point Coffee, was all in favor of both events.

"We do wonderful on First Fridays. I would like to see another one," Lucas said. "Any activity that brings more people to Havre de Grace, it's a good thing. I say, more of it."

Ralph Shapot, owner of Tidewater Grille, said First Fridays are "a great asset," but said the town needs to improve how it blocks off streets.

"My business suffers on First Fridays, the way the traffic patterns are," Shapot said. "People don't perceive business being outside that blocked area as even being part of First Fridays."

Sheppard said after the vote that his group tried everything in working with the council, including negotiating closing various streets.

"We thought working off the First Fridays branding would be a natural fit for a Third Fridays event," he said. "It would be very little expense, same brand for us."

Lori Maslin, who most notably runs the Seafood Festival and runs Laughing Crab Catering, had begged the council to give Third Fridays a chance.

She said customers are not stupid, will read signs and can be re-trained to return to a certain event.

"I firmly believe if this town had something every single week, we could retain our customer base, whether they are Havre de Grace residents, or from Cecil County or Baltimore," she said.

After the negative vote, however, she told council members that Havre de Grace Main Street did not consider their vote to be a vote against Main Street.

"We will bring back to the council something we hope you can get behind," she said. "We will be back."

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