Fiddlers Setup Bothers Some Merchants

BERLIN – The excitement surrounding last weekend’s Fiddlers Convention was not shared by everyone in Berlin.

Several South Main Street business owners voiced concerns about the lackluster weekend they experienced, something they say was due to the barricades at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Main Street.

“It was a ghost town down here,” said Ruth Koontz of Main Street Deli.

Koontz says the blockade set up at Jefferson and Main streets kept Fiddlers Convention attendees from even realizing there were businesses further south on Main Street. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that town vehicles were parked alongside the barricades, blocking much of the shops from view.

“I was shocked by the lack of foot traffic,” said Heather Layton, owner of Bungalow Love.

Though this was her first Fiddlers Convention on Main Street, as her shop was previously on William Street, she said she typically saw increased sales during the music festival and had expected that again in her new location.

“It was a decent day but most times [the Saturday of] Fiddlers Convention is a wow day,” she said.

Layton said it’s also a day she usually sees lots of tourists making purchases. This year, at her 9 S. Main Street location, 65 percent of her sales were made to repeat customers. She says the out-of-towners she generally sees during that weekend didn’t go beyond the barricades to see the store.

“There’s nothing to show we’re here,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

Koontz said that while barricades between South Main Street and town events like the Fiddlers Convention aren’t unusual, this year they had a particularly strong effect on business. Like Layton, she said people watching the musicians had no idea there were shops past the barriers.

Last year Koontz’s deli did $1,200 in business — significantly more than she does during a normal day — the Saturday of the Fiddlers Convention. Knowing that, she hired extra staff to help this year.

“I had six people and could have done it with three,” she said, adding that the store did just $800 in business.

Across the street, Deborah Gilbert at Nest says she didn’t have a particularly busy day but hadn’t been expecting one. She said the barriers on the street always separate South Main Street shops from the rest of town during special events. Nevertheless, it is something she’d like to see change.

“It hinders our business,” she said.

Ivy Wells, the town’s economic development director, said she was aware that some merchants weren’t pleased with the placement of the barricades during the convention but added that that was a police decision. She also said that special events like the Fiddlers Convention didn’t always equate to increased sales for town businesses that very weekend.

“Event days aren’t necessarily supposed to be big money makers,” she said. “They’re live ads to bring people to town.”

She says a lot of times, events and festivals bring people to town who have never visited it before. Once they’re aware of it, they’ll come back and spend money there.

“Events bring awareness to a town,” she said.

Wells suggested businesses such as those on the south end of Main Street do more to draw attention to themselves during events. She said merchants could walk around with coupons, put up additional signage, or even use sidewalk chalk to direct visitors to their shops.

“Businesses should be more proactive and take advantage of a unique event,” she said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.